On November 9, 2015, EPA published a proposal to revise its Clean Air Act refrigerant regulations under the stratospheric ozone protection program, which cover all appliances containing a refrigerant, including HVAC systems, commercial food refrigeration appliances, and industrial cooling processes.  The proposal would significantly increase the regulatory burden associated with those regulations in two ways.

First, the proposal would expand the definition of refrigerants to cover not only the ozone-depleting CFCs and HCFCs that the program was originally designed to cover, but also all “substitutes” for those refrigerants that, until now, were not subject to the program.  If EPA finalizes this rule as proposed, the refrigerant regulations would apply to many more HVAC, refrigerators, and industrial processes than ever before, requiring the owners of those appliance to comply with a variety of maintenance, repair, disposal, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements.  EPA’s goal in extending its regulations to refrigeration substitutes is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since many common substitute refrigerants are HFCs, and therefore qualify as “greenhouse gases.”

Second, the proposed revisions would strengthen the leak repair requirements for appliances containing more than 50 pounds of a refrigerant (including “substitute” refrigerants).  These more stringent requirements would include annual leak inspections (with quarterly inspections for very large appliances), lower leak thresholds for triggering repair requirements (reducing the threshold from 35% to 20% for industrial processes and from 15% to 10% for HVAC systems), and a two-year leak limit that would require replacement of any appliance that leaks more than 75 percent of its charge two years in a row.

On the other hand, some of the proposed revisions may be beneficial to the regulated community.  For example, the proposed revisions include various options for seeking an extension of the 30-day deadline for repairing a leaking appliance, such as an extension of up to 180 days if components needed for a repair are not immediately available.

Facilities of all types should review this proposal as soon as possible, as written comments on it are due to EPA by January 25, 2016.