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EPA Sets Timetable for Curbing Leaks of Climate-Warming HFCs – NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)

WASHINGTON – Under an agreement announced today, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to a timeline for implementing a congressional mandate to issue federal standards curbing leaks of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), super-potent climate-warming chemicals used in industrial and commercial refrigeration equipment.  

The NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and a coalition of states and cities reached the agreement with the EPA. The agency has stated that it plans to issue a proposal addressing HFC leaks and promoting reclamation (recycling and reuse) of HFCs by summer of 2023 and to finalize its proposal a year later. 

“This agreement marks another crucial step leading the country, and the world, beyond these powerful drivers of the global climate crisis,” said Alex Hillbrand, an HFC expert in the Climate and Clean Energy and International programs at NRDC. “Pound for pound, these chemicals trap several thousand times as much heat as carbon dioxide. With strong rules, EPA could take a deep cut out of HFC leakage and waste, which, absent such action, will equal the annual climate pollution from some 21 million cars through this decade.”  

The agreement, reached in connection with a pending legal challenge to a Trump-era regulatory rollback, establishes a timetable for carrying out the HFC leak reduction and reclaim provisions of the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, enacted with broad bipartisan support in December 2020 to phase down HFCs and replace them with climate-friendlier alternatives. 

BACKGROUND

The agreement is reflected in a joint motion asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to pause an ongoing case brought by NRDC and state and local governments challenging the Trump administration’s rollback of prior HFC regulations issued under the Clean Air Act.  

As part of the new rulemaking, EPA will reevaluate that rollback and consider more extensive leak prevention and refrigerant reclamation measures as instructed by the AIM Act. The parties have asked the Court to keep that case on hold during EPA’s rulemaking process. The Court is expected to decide soon whether to approve the request. 

The case, now called NRDC v. Regan, was initially filed against the preceding EPA administrator in May 2020. The petitioners are NRDC, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, the District of Columbia, and New York City. Two industry associations, the Air Permitting Forum and Auto Industry Forum, intervened in defense of the Trump-era rollbacks. 

The AIM Act cuts production and import of HFCs by 85 percent over the next 15 years. It also calls on EPA to take additional steps to reduce HFC emissions, including the leak prevention and reclaim provisions at issue here, as well as banning applications where there are safer alternatives.   

Implementing the AIM Act supply phasedown will prevent HFC emissions equivalent to 4.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide through midcentury, nearly equal to three years of U.S. power sector emissions in 2019. It is also expected to create 33,000 jobs and spur $12.5 billion of new investments in the U.S. economy, according to a study from the University of Maryland. 

The AIM Act was championed by dozens of senators and representatives in both parties and backed by a coalition ranging from NRDC to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. EPA has already issued initial phase-down regulations and granted ten petitions to replace HFCs in specific end-uses. These leak reduction and reclaim rules will further implement the AIM Act. 

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NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.  

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