New York EPA Lawsuit – Climate Hydrofluorocarbon Fight Heats Up

Fridge or freezer left in a ditch.

Fridge or freezer left in a ditch. Malcolm Campbell [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

US States led by New York are suing the EPA to try to prevent Pruitt from reversing Obama era rules limiting the use of HFCs.

A.G. Underwood Sues EPA Over Illegal Rollback Of Key Climate Protection Regulation

AG Underwood Leads Coalition of 11 AGs, Charging EPA with Illegally Seeking to Roll Back Prohibition on Powerful Climate Change Pollutants Known as Hydrofluorocarbons

HFCs are Fastest Growing Source of GHG Emissions; Original EPA Rule Would Avoid Up to 31 Million Metric Tons of GHG a Year

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood, leading a coalition of 11 Attorneys General, today filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for seeking to illegally roll back key climate protection regulations adopted in 2015. Specifically, the coalition charges that EPA violated the federal Clean Air Act when it effectively rescinds regulations prohibiting the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – which are extremely potent climate change pollutants – through “guidance,” rather than a public rulemaking process, as required by the law.

Lifting limits on the use of HFCs will damage efforts to combat climate change. When it finalized its HFC rule in 2015, EPA estimated that the rule would avoid 26 to 31 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually by 2020. A reduction of 30 million metric tons is approximately equivalent to 6.4 million passenger vehicles driven for one year, or the annual energy use for 3.2 million homes.

“The Trump EPA is seeking to gut critical climate protection rules through the backdoor – once again endangering New Yorkers while thumbing their nose at the law,” Attorney General Underwood said. “My office will continue to fight back against the Trump Administration’s brazen disregard for rule of law, and the health, safety, and welfare of New Yorkers.”

Joining Attorney General Underwood in the lawsuit are the Attorneys General of California, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Since 1990, the Clean Air Act has required EPA to phase out chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which destroy the earth’s ozone layer. The law included a “Safe Alternatives Policy” to ensure that when manufacturers replaced CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances in their products, their replacements would “reduce overall risks to human health and the environment.” Pursuant to this provision of the law, in 2015, EPA finalized a rule that prohibited or limited the use of HFCs as replacements for ozone-depleting substances due to their potency as climate change pollutants.

EPA’s 2015 rule is a vital to addressing climate change. HFCs are thousands of times more potent for global warming than carbon dioxide and are the fastest growing source of emissions in the United States and globally. Controlling HFCs are also vital to New York’s goal of reducing climate change pollution emissions 80 percent by 2050, as by 2050 the chemicals will account for 25 percent of the state’s emissions.

Two manufacturers of HFCs subsequently sued EPA over the 2015 rule.  In deciding that suit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously affirmed EPA’s legal authority to designate HFCs as prohibited replacements for ozone-depleting substances. However, in a split decision, the court also ruled that the Agency lacked authority to require a manufacturer that has already replaced an ozone-depleting substance with HFCs to switch to a safer alternative. The court partially vacated the rule — solely with respect to this requirement – and remanded it back to EPA.

In April of this year, EPA Administrator Pruitt issued a document, styled as “guidance,” that effectively rescinds the 2015 rule in its entirety. That guidance, issued without public notice and opportunity for comment, states that the Agency is voiding the HFC limits adopted in the 2015 rule “in their entirety” – including those affirmed by the D.C. Circuit court.

EPA’s decision to void the rule completely will likely result in a significant increase in HFC emissions. For example, EPA estimated in 2016 that there are nearly 200,000 commercial refrigeration units nationwide that use ozone-depleting substances. Because of EPA’s new guidance, those units are no longer prohibited from switching to HFCs – despite the court’s explicit ruling that this aspect of the 2015 rule was lawful.  EPA has pledged to undertake a rulemaking to address the court’s decision, but has not provided any timetable for doing so.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and charges that Administrator Pruitt’s use of guidance to rescind the 2015 rule violates the Clean Air Act. Under the Act, the guidance is a substantive rule that required public notice and comment prior to being finalized.

This matter is being handled for Attorney General Underwood by Senior Counsel for Air Pollution and Climate Change Litigation Michael J. Myers, Affirmative Section Chief Morgan A. Costello, Assistant Attorney General Joshua M. Tallent, and Staff Scientist Charles Silver. The Environmental Protection Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic and is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Matthew Colangelo.

Source: https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-underwood-sues-epa-over-illegal-rollback-key-climate-protection-regulation

The lawsuit filed by AG Underwood is available here.

This issue goes back to former President Obama’s war on safe refrigerants.

HFCs are powerful greenhouse gasses which opponents claim pose a threat even in tiny concentrations. This has led to ridiculous claims like the claim that the use of asthma inhalers is heating the planet.

Western hysteria over HFCs has also led to bizarre international diplomatic incidents. In 2011 China threatened to vent vast quantities of HFCs unless they received billions of dollars in climate compensation. There were even suggestions that China was deliberately producing excess HFCs to qualify for greater climate payouts from the West.

The available alternatives to HFCs or CFCs are flammable, toxic or both. A HFC leak from your home refrigerator just means your fridge stops working. A flammable refrigerant gas leak or ammonia leak could be more serious.

In my opinion this lawsuit is just another example of green misanthropy. The safety of humans never seems that important to climate warriors. I’m not convinced that the alternatives to HFCs are safe, but this won’t prevent greens from trying to force the adoption of in my opinion dubious alternatives to harmless HFCs if they can make it happen.

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William Sweeney

You want propane and butane working fluids for refrigerators? They did in the UK and now their refrigerators burn and blow up, and as we have seen, sometimes take entire apartment buildings with them.

Harrow Sceptic

William S

Can you provide any references to the UK using either propane or butane in our refrigerators? A refrigerator was the cause of the initial fire at the Grenfell house tragedy, but there has never, to my knowledge, been any mention of propane/butane being involved. In fact the fire report says the fridge fire was quckly put out, but that by that time the outside cladding had caught fire and it was that, that caused the fire to spread.

Ric Haldane

WS, This will be the 5th year that my ac has run on propane. The high pressure is lower than R22, I save money. The air is 5 degrees colder. It is cheaper to buy than R22 and I use less than half as much. I save money. When I switched, the two big insurance associations did not have a problem with R22a. Europe has millions of fridges that run on isobutane. I use less than two pounds of propane and my attic is well ventilated. My ac unit does not move. You should think more about your car running on gasoline at 6 pounds per gallon. Hydrocarbons are great for cooling and are not in short supply. Bureaucrats use their emotions to ban substances rather than proof and common sense. BTW, propane has a GWP of 38 as opposed 410a which is around 2,000.

Ben of Houston

Well, from anecdotal accounts of experiments done by A/C companies, propane can be used as a direct substitute for R-22 (I have a family member who was in R&D), so this will mean saving a very large amount on replacement compressors. There are significant advantages to using propane, especially in retrofits.

My home is filled with methane pipes and hoses. Many of us have propane tanks attached to a burner that we use to cook steaks. It’s a minor safety risk, but it’s one that has paid off for a very, VERY large number of people. Besides, if there is a leak, the volume is smaller than either of the two other sources of hydrocarbons I mention, and it is quickly diluted to below the LEL due to being in an air vent. The safety risk is substantially less than a gas furnace.

John Hardy

The other issue is efficiency. Devices using alternatives to HFCs may use more energy which doesn’t seem to be considered. Here is quite an old but still-relevant article: https://www.racplus.com/home/the-future-of-hfcs-are-they-a-viable-alternative/8600052.article.

Personally this has me spitting bricks. Some vaccines need refrigeration, and their availability in much of Africa is reduced if refrigeration becomes more expensive

Tom Halla

Isn’t there a connection between flammable refrigerants and the UK Grenfell fire?

François

Somehow, I thought that talking about Grenfell, one should always keep the word “decency” in mind.

François

Thank you very much, Mr. Watts, for having accepted my comment and informing me about it (it took some time though… five items had been posted, and my comment -most probably- was read by 3 persons?) ). In our overly socialistic systems (France for instance), we decided a long time ago that a high rise building should have at least two staircases, and we tend to think that high-inflamable coating is not a good idea; regulations, regulations, yes it is tedious (you tell us, from the country of Love Canal, Erin Brokowicz and lead in the water supply).FM

wws

Although a refrigerator caused the original fire, I have never seen any claim that it was one that used flammable refrigerant – I believe it was attributed to an electrical short.

However, the high death toll WAS related directly to “energy efficiency” schemes; the building had been retrofitted and covered with “cladding”, an extra layer of material which was intended to greatly increase the energy efficiency of the building. No one checked to see if this “cladding” was fire resistant, and it was like wrapping the entire building in plastic. No wonder it went up like a roman candle once a fire started.

Roger Knights

“I have never seen any claim that it was one that used flammable refrigerant”

I remember clearly that the fridge involved did use propane, and that the manufacturer had identified a defect in it that had caused fires. It sent out an alert (and a fix?) about this flaw, but it didn’t get applied to the fridge in Grenfell.

Steve case

I am surprised that I did not see that CFCs and HFCs have Global Warming Potentials a gazillion times that of CO2.

Before “Global Warming” was really cranked up, the big concerns were that CFCs would reduce the “ozone layer”. This would allow more UV through thus inducing more skin cancer.
People then that I talked to could not understand that the intensity of ozone “up there” depended upon how much UV was being received at that elevation. UV-created ozone, in turn, varied more with the solar cycle than with anything else.
Another point really prompted the blank stare.
No UV, no ozone. As in the polar regions when it was night all day. No light, no UV. No UV, no ozone. The Great Hole in the Ozone Layer scare.
They just could not understand it.
Probably still don’t, but I have found it best to never talk science with my sisters.
🙂
Bob Hoye

commieBob

What’s the evidence that HFCs are potent greenhouse gases? I picked one: 1,1,1,2-Tetrafluoroethane, otherwise known as HFC-134a. I googled its infrared absorption spectrum. link Its most prominent absorption band is quite sharp around 1104.5/cm. That corresponds to a wavelength of around 9 microns.

The fact that the absorption band is so sharp probably means that not much energy gets absorbed. It also falls within a much broader absorption band of ozone.

It is claimed that HFC-134a is 3790 times as potent as CO2. Eyeballing its absorption spectrum leaves me unconvinced.

Nick Stokes
commieBob

The problem, as far as I can tell, is that their model allows the HFCs to lose energy only by radiation.

Molecular vibrations and some energetic rotations have energy level spacings that correspond to energies in the IR region of the electromagnetic spectrum (most rotations are in the microwave range which runs between thermal IR and radio wavelengths). Thus IR radiation absorbed by molecules causes increased vibration. Collisions between these energized molecules and others in the sample transfer energy among all the molecules, which increases the average thermal energy and, hence, raises the temperature. Conversely, molecules that emit IR radiation lose their vibrational energy and their collisions with other molecules decrease the average thermal energy and lower the temperature. link

The likelihood of collisions vs radiation depends on density and therefore altitude.

Rick C PE

The HFC ban appears to be based on an assumption that whatever refrigerant is produced ultimately ends up leaking into the atmosphere. This is not true. In fact, in the US, there is a requirement to collect and process refrigerants from decommissioned equipment. I have personally replaced two old refrigerators and one freezer in the last few years. They were from 50 to 30 years old and worked – never leaked any CFCs. I had to pay $20 each and take them to a drop off where they would be transferred to a licensed recycling company. I’m sure that leaks occur, but I suspect that the percent of these refrigerants that actually end up leaking is far less than the amount produced.

While we’re at it, lets legalize DDT also, as it has proved harmless to most everything
except mosquitoes…

drednicolson

And lice. It was used at the end of WW2 to delouse concentration camp survivors.

Hivemind

Not just concentration camp survivors. It was used routinely in the cities because heating water was often impossible, many city dwellers didn’t bathe. There were DDT stations where the citizens went to get rid of the inevitable lice.

Ernest Bush

In my Explorer Scouts troop we used DDT in the 1950’s, sprinkling it around our tents and outdoor cots to keep down ticks. In the East Texas woods I expect they will still carry you away in the night. Netting kept the mosquitoes away from you.

Am I anywhere near correct that 31 million metric tons is a very, very, very small fraction of Earth’s atmospheric mass? … something like 0.000000047 or 0.0000047 % or 0.045 ppm, which is about ten thousand times smaller than the percentage of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere?

And if HFC’s are about 14,000 times as powerful a “greenhouse gas” as CO2, then a ten-thousand-times smaller amount of it (with a 14,000 times more powerful effect than CO2) would be what effect ? — a 1.4 times effect of CO2 ?, which is about a doubling ?, and if a doubling of 0 for CO2 = 0, then a doubling from something ten thousand times smaller than CO2, with a 14,000 times as powerful effect of 0 would seem to be 0 ? I’m not sure, but it looks like the fear might be based on how small a human is with respect to how big the Earth is.

31 million metric tons looks big compared to a puny human. But the Earth’s total atmospheric mass is so much bigger than this, and so that 31 million gets eaten up by it like an ant being eaten by a dinosaur.

What we fear is our puny size in relation to the Earth. And then we magnify this fear of our own size in this relationship to a perspective of something else to create a false view.

How many metric tons of destructive water fall from the sky each year? How many metric tons of snow encrust our habitable zones, making life more difficult each year?

How many metric tons of hot air do climate alarmists exhale each year?

Am I being blind here ?

ЯΞ√ΩLUT↑☼N

I did the same calculation (several years ago) between CO2 and CH4 (methane). It turns out that the amount of CH4 in the atmosphere, although widely regarded as being some 23x more “greenhousery” than CO2, would only equal around 42ppm CO2, essentially nothing in the scheme of things and, considering CH4 is very easily decayed in the atmosphere, the effect is essentially not significantly greater than zero.

And now that we know CO2 is already at saturation levels for IR absorption, we might as well call it zero.

Dave Kelly

Shrug, based on years of dealing with EPA lawsuits (not as an attorney), I don’t think it would really matter if the plaintiff’s were to prevail. In the worst case scenario, the EPA guidance document would only be delayed a year of two. The amount of time needed to go thru the public regulatory commenting period.

As for the use of guidance document process as opposed to the regulatory process, well good luck with that. It wouldn’t have been the first time the EPA’s used guidance documents when it retains regulatory authority but does not intend to impose burdensome regulation.

Moreover, this looks like a “guidance document” as opposed to a “significant guidance document” or an “economically significant guidance document” My recollection is that “Guidance Documents” don’t need to go thru public comment as opposed to a that do “significant guidance document” or an “economically significant guidance document”.

A quick check the EPA’s list of “significant guidance documents” (see here https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/significant-guidance-documents-air) confirms this was not a “significant guidance document”. The only ozone related document issued in the Trump administration in this list is “Guidance on Significant Impact Levels for Ozone and Fine Particles in the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Permitting Program”… and that document does not mention HFCs.

And as to “New York’s goal of reducing climate change pollution emissions 80 percent by 2050″… well tough luck. The D.C. Circuit Court has consistently made clear the Clean Air Act does not require the EPA to conform to State laws in the implementation of its regulation. Moreover, the D.C. Court has repeatedly indicated the EPA, except when directly mandated by law, has full discretion to determine the extent to which it will regulate and/or wither to regulate at all. Meaning the EPA can legally say it will regulate and then legally impose regulations so loose as to not be meaningful.

Using cheap abundant propane/butane for a refrigerant is a fine idea. Should bring down the cost of home air conditioners and refrigerators.
The worry about flammability is moot where most homes use natural gas as a cooking and/or heating fuel. Home cook stoves don’t even have the safety feature that the propane unit on my boat does — on the boat, the gas shuts off to any burner that is not flaming — so the gas can’t accidentally be left on when a burner blows out. That means the risk of fire or explosion from the tiny bit of propane gas in your refrigerator is nothing like the home-filling potential of your natural gas cook stove or furnace.

Red94ViperRT10

I think you make an excellent point. Additionally, most refrigerant leaks are microscopic and therefore slow acting, it could take months to leak out 50% of that couple of pounds of butane, so there’s no danger of building up a flammable concentration in the living space. You only leak out that entire charge in a short time when major damage happens to the unit. In other words, if that full charge escapes all at once you probably have bigger problems than the risk of an explosion.

ScottR

Some information from Scotland re this topic. Here in the EU Empire, all domestic refrigerants based on CFCs are banned, so hydrocarbons are used. My fridge/freezer, made by a world leader in electronics, etc. is typical, bought in 2009. The refrigerant is 88g (3oz) R600a (isobutane). The following is copied from the user manual:
“In order to avoid the creation of a flammable gas-air mixture if a leak in the refrigerating circuit is occurs, the size of the room in which the appliance may be sited depends on the amount of refrigerant used….
The room must be 1m3 in size for every 8g of R600a refrigerant inside the appliance….”

So I’ve got to have at least 11m3 (about 370cuft)around the device, otherwise it could cause a small? bang. Just to help if it does, the insulation blowing gas is cyclopentane and requires special handling for disposal but would add it’s own fuel to the flames.

To add insult to injury, the same manual says:
“Do not install the refrigerator where the temperature will go below 50F (10C).”
For more than 10 years, it’s been impossible to buy a fridge/freezer in the EU which works in an unheated space, eg a garage. The problem is not the fridge, of course, it’s the freezer – it stops as well. So we’ve got to keep heating on to keep the food cold, as it often gets below 10C in Scotland. But it’s a fine rule for Sicily, I suspect.

Still, all this pales into insignificance beside the latest crisis – the UK is short of CO2 – for industrial purposes. Beer is in short supply, fizzy drinks, etc, but now also prepared foods “packed in a protective atmosphere”. Still it’s good for pigs. The largest abattoir in Scotland has closed down as CO2 is part of the stunning process. Is there nothing this gas can’t do?

In a new Lend-Lease, perhaps you could send us some of your excess US CO2. It could be on the same boats used to bring your forests over here for burning in Drax power station.

PS I feel better for this rant!

Luther Bl't

In the UK you can certainly buy a freezer for your garage designed to operate at ambient temperatures down to -10C or -15C. See http://www.ukchestfreezers.co.uk/search?garage=y

If specified only to 10C, the issue in cold weather/spaces is not that it stops working, but that it never stops working – the compressor fails to switch off! I can testify to the expense that causes, and the much lower electricity bills from an appropriate device.

ScottR

Luther,

Thanks for the link. I didn’t try specialists 10 years ago, but a chest freezer would not have been suitable. We solved the problem with a charity shop purchase of a 15 year old small freezer that sits on a worktop. CFC refrigerant and still working today.

However, personal experience is:

1 We’d lost food in a freezer twice when left in an unheated holiday home with a fridge/freezer less than a year old. When we went to the retailer, they effectively said “RTFM” and it’s not covered by the warranty.

2 This had not been a problem before 2008. All the High Street retailers we asked said the same thing – new regulations means 10C minimum. They only tell you if you ask, however.

Cheers

Red94, Scoot R, Luther ==> Modern Home refrigerators used in Eu and US that used propane/butane (etc) as a refrigerant only contain 3-4 ounces (by weight) of the gas — not pounds of the stuff.
That much propane has to be confined in an air volume of 1 cubic meter to be flammable/explosive. For your refrigerator to work, it needs a lot more space than that just for airflow over the cooling coils. It is NOT a danger. Worry instead about your gas cook stove pilots (if you still have them).
Lat time I looked at inexpensive chest freezers here in the US, I noticed that it invalidated the warranty to use it in a garage.

ScottR

Kip, I can assure you that gas cook stoves aren’t a problem in the UK (and rest of EU, I believe). All gas hobs and cooker burners must now be fitted with a flame failure device which shuts off the gas if the flame is extinguished by spills, wind etc. I haven’t seen pilot light burners in many years- spark ignition (usually Mains electricity) seems to be universal. There will, no doubt, be very old ones which haven’t been replaced but very low numbers.

All gas installers must be registered to work on gas devices and may lose registration if they work on devices which are “unsafe”. DIY is a criminal offence in most circumstances.

Cheers

Davis

Wasn’t the EPA meddling in how foam insulation is made, result in the loss of the one space shuttle on re entry when the foam fell off during launch, damaging the wing protective tiles?

Hivemind

No, they weren’t foam. They were silicon dioxide.

Pedio

It was my understanding that the foam on the large liquid fuel tank contained CFCs and NASA chose to attempt a launch without the foam. Ice formed on the tank during fueling and broke off during launch causing tile damage. If my source is to be believed, they used a cork compound on the fuel tank for that launch. Instead of the white tank it was a big red tank. I have never verified this as the truth, but the person that told me claimed to have supplied the cork particles.

Climate Heretic

Send all the salient points in the comments, summarized to Mr Scott Pruit. This I’m sure would help Scott, in some meaningful way.

Regards
Climate Heretic

Tom in Florida

When you go the “rule” making route instead of making law, the rule can be rescinded by the next rule maker. Did the leftists not understand this? Oh, they thought they were going to be in charge forever.

Gary Pearse

Well the same mindset brought curly lightbulbs loaded with mercury poorly manufactured in China and subject to leaking and a danger when accidentally broken – save the planet and give no thought to human health.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Beijing

“When it finalized its HFC rule in 2015, EPA estimated that the rule would avoid 26 to 31 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually by 2020. A reduction of 30 million metric tons is approximately equivalent to 6.4 million passenger vehicles driven for one year, or the annual energy use for 3.2 million homes.”

Not the equivalent of 3.2 million homes in Ontario. We have nuclear and hydro electricity, use heating oil and natural gas. Maybe someone can calculate the difference between a nuke-hydro-oil-gas region and a ‘US’ region where coal is used more. I’d be interested to see the result. In don’t have enough info to make the calc myself.

D. J. Hawkins

Well, kiss your server rooms goodbye in case of a fire. The most popular fire-suppressing clean agent is FM200, or HFC-227ea. There are alternatives, such as Novec 1230, FE-25 and the like, but you have a huge installed base of FM200 and the alternatives are not drop-in replacements. It’s the same story as the Halon scare.