Public comment period open through November 15, 2018
Submit comments and see docket information @ https://www.regulations.gov/searchResults?rpp=25&po=0&s=FRL-9984-55-OAR&fp=true&ns=true
Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0629
A public hearing was held October 16, 2018, in Washington, D.C.
What’s at Risk, How to Comment, and Talking Points
EPA is proposing to rollback controls on extremely powerful climate pollutants used in refrigeration equipment. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are 1,430 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere. EPA’s original rule extended controls on substances that deplete stratospheric ozone to HFCs, a substitute for those substances, to reduce emissions of both pollutants. Trump’s EPA is now concerned that EPA overstepped its legal authority in applying the controls to HFCs, but has proposed no alternative means of reducing emissions of these powerful climate-changing pollutants.
In a recent report commissioned by the United Nations, an international group of climate experts warns that we only have 10 years to take the additional steps needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Now is not the time to be rolling back controls on climate pollution without replacing them with something as effective, or better yet, more effective.
EPA’s 2016 Refrigerants Rule
EPA issued a rule in 2016 to strengthen a Clean Air Act program concerning substances that destroy stratospheric ozone if released to the air. Stratospheric ozone shields the Earth from much of the harmful ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun. To the extent stratospheric ozone is destroyed, more UV radiation reaches the Earth’s surface. For humans, exposure to more UV radiation means more skin cancer, cataracts, and suppression of the immune system.
The 2016 rule expanded the program for controlling ozone-depleting substances (ODS) used in refrigeration equipment to HFCs, which have been used as a substitute for ODS. In a 2015 rule, EPA had determined that HFCs were no longer an acceptable substitute for ODS because of HFCs’ extremely high global warming potential (1,430 times more potent than carbon dioxide). In the 2016 rule, EPA decided that HFCs should be controlled in the same way as ODS when used in refrigeration equipment to minimize the release of both ODS and HFCs when refrigeration equipment is serviced, repaired, or thrown away.
The Clean Air Act already banned the venting of ODS and HFCs except for small (“de minimis”) releases associated with good faith attempts to safely recapture and recycle or safely dispose of the substances. EPA had previously ruled that the de minimis exception applied to releases of ODS that occurred despite compliance with controls for minimizing releases. EPA reasoned that applying the same controls to HFCs would similarly provide guiderails for when releases of HFCs qualify for the de minimis exception. EPA also concluded that applying the same controls to both ODS and HFCs would reduce the risk of confusion and mistakes by repair technicians that could lead to needless release of these dangerous substances.
In assessing the impacts of the 2016, EPA found that controls on HFCs would reduce emissions of both ODS and HFCs and so prevent damage to the stratospheric ozone layer and emissions of potent climate pollution. EPA also found that the rule would result in a net cost savings of $19.5 million by reducing leaks of ODS and HFCs. ODS and HFCs are both refrigerants, so if they leak from refrigeration equipment, they need to be replaced in order for the equipment to maintain low temperatures.
The Trump Administration Rollback Proposal
In response to a lawsuit and petition challenging the 2016 rule, the Trump EPA is proposing to more narrowly interpret the Clean Air Act so that one or all of the controls on HFCs imposed by the 2016 rule would no longer be authorized and would consequently be rescinded. While the agency is proposing to rescind only one requirement based on its proposed interpretation, it is asking for comment on whether it should rescind or revise all of the HFC requirements.
EPA is also proposing to extend the January 1, 2019 compliance date for the 2016 rule’s HFC provisions by up to a year. Even though the agency is proposing to rescind only one requirement, it wants to relieve regulated parties of compliance with all HFC controls while it finishes the rulemaking, since the agency may ultimately decide to rescind or revise all of the requirements.
How to Comment
EPA will accept public comments until 11:59 PM Eastern Time on November 15, 2018. Docket information and a link for submitting comments are available at this link.
If you wish to submit comments by mail, fax, or other means, see the full EPA public comment policy at https://www.epa.gov/dockets/commenting-epa-dockets. This web page also provides information about CBI or multimedia submissions, and general guidance on making effective comments. Comments on this proposal must be identified by the following Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0629.
Tips on What to Say
First, explain why you’re commenting on this notice – why preserving controls on powerful climate-change pollution matters to you. For example, if you live in an area prone to flooding, wildfire, heatwaves or drought, or threatened by sea level rise, explain that combatting climate change is vitally important to you.
If you have relevant expertise, say so. You don’t have to be an expert to make a valid and valuable comment, but if you do have expertise, share your knowledge.
If you have information relevant to the rule (for example, news articles or anecdotal information about how climate change is affecting or is expected to affect your community) include that information and highlight it.
Be constructive and civil. Don’t write a lot if less will do.
Suggested Talking Points
This is no time to be rolling back controls on climate change pollution. The hurricanes, flooding, drought, and wildfires of this year alone illustrate how climate change is stoking disasters that are devastating the lives of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world.
Leading climate scientists from all over the world just released a United Nations-commissioned report warning that allowing the Earth to warm by more than 1.5 degree C will lead to more terrible, costly, and heartbreaking consequences for life on earth. These scientists tell us that we must dramatically reduce climate pollution in the next 10 years if we are to keep warming to 1.5 degrees C.
The time for climate change denial is long past. Over the last several decades, accumulating evidence has led the United Nations’ and many nation’s official scientific organizations, including the United States’ own National Research Council, to conclude that humans are almost certainly causing much of recent climate change.
President Trump’s suggestion, without evidence, that thousands of climate scientists around the world are lying about climate change in order to advance some political agenda takes conspiracy theory to astonishing and dangerous new heights.
In the face of scientists’ urgent warnings about climate change, EPA should err on the side of preserving climate change controls for which it arguably has authority. Where EPA is convinced it lacks authority, it should seek to use other authority or ask Congress for the authority it needs.
If EPA no longer believes that climate pollution endangers human health and the environment, it should say so and defend its position based on the scientific evidence now available. Americans deserve to know whether Trump’s EPA doesn’t believe the scientific consensus on climate change or whether it’s just ducking its responsibility to act in light of the science.
The legal interpretation supporting the 2016 rule’s controls on HFCs is reasonable. Even Trump’s EPA concedes that EPA has discretion in how it interprets the relevant legal provisions. EPA can and should exercise its discretion to interpret the law to authorize the controls on HFCs, since that interpretation furthers the purposes of the law – minimizing releases of ODS and HFCs.
The Clean Air Act already bans the release of HFCs during the servicing or disposal of refrigeration equipment, except for small releases that can’t be avoided. The 2016 rule provides needed clarity about how to keep releases of HFCs small.
By no means should EPA extend its rollback of the 2016 rule to all of the HFC controls established by that rule. EPA should maintain the rule’s application of leak repair provisions to HFCs since leaks can be detected and corrected in servicing refrigeration equipment and obviously result in releases to the air. Even if EPA believes its authority does not extend to leak repair controls, it has acknowledged it is reasonable to interpret the law to authorize the other controls on HFCs. Given the urgent need for climate pollution controls and the law’s prohibition on all but small releases of HFCs, EPA should retain the controls on HFCs.
EPA’s own economic analysis acknowledges that the 2016 rule’s HFC controls will, on balance, save $19.5 million every year by reducing the need to buy more refrigerants to replace those that been needlessly released to the air. The cost of replacement HFCs mostly comes out of consumers’ pockets. The savings EPA touts from repealing HFC controls would largely accrue to businesses using HFCs in their products.
Since EPA should retain the 2016 rule’s HFC controls, it should not extend the compliance deadline for those controls. Any extension of compliance deadlines should be as short as possible. EPA can complete this rulemaking within 6 months of the proposal, particularly since its decision turns on legal issues that the agency has already extensively analyzed. Any extension of compliance deadlines should also be as narrow as possible. Since EPA is proposing only to repeal the leak repair provisions, it should limit any extension to those requirements.
The world’s climate scientists are saying the world’s governments need to act quickly to dramatically cut climate pollution. In making decisions about this and other proposed rollbacks of climate pollution controls, EPA should heed their well-founded warnings rather than make matters even worse by repealing controls already on the books.
There Is More That We Can Do
The upcoming November elections give us a potent opportunity to let our elected leaders know that public protections are important to us and how we vote. Submitting comments to EPA is a good first step. Please consider also writing to your members of Congress (your representative in the House of Representatives and your two senators). Many of them up for reelection.
If you submit comments to EPA, you can let your members of Congress and other elected officials know what you think by sending them a copy of your comments. A template for comments to members of Congress is on page 23 of Save EPA’s “A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump De-Regulatory Agenda,” which is available to read or download at the following link: http://saveepaalums.info/Resistance+Guide. The following links help you send your comments to your members:
Countable is an on-line tool that lets you identify your members of Congress based on your address and then send a message to all three members at once. Its link is https://www.countable.us/.
If you prefer to write your members of Congress separately, you can go to https://whoismyrepresentative.com/orhttps://www.usa.gov/elected-officials/to find your members' email contact forms or snail mail addresses.
Also consider letting your state and local officials know that you are concerned about this issue by writing or calling them or speaking at town hall meetings. In the absence of federal leadership, it is vitally important that states and local governments fill the void.
Other ways of raising the public and political profile of this rollback include:
Getting involved with local activists who are encouraging federal, state or local action.
Writing letters to the editor and even op-eds in your local papers. Letters to the editor should be fairly brief.
Organizing or participating in campaigns to make phone calls or write letters to members of Congress. Some campaigns ask participants to make phone calls to radio stations during call-in days, or take other actions to spread the word.
Spreading the word via social media. Tag your elected officials so they know how you feel.
Joining or organizing demonstrations.
Talking to your friends, colleagues and neighbors and encouraging them to comment and otherwise join in this effort.
Links for More Information
EPA web page on refrigerants regulation -- https://www/epa.gov/section 608
2016 EPA refrigerants rule -- link
EPA letter to NEDA/CAP and Air Permitting Forum about plans to revisit 2016 refrigerants rule -- https://www.epa.gov/section608/letter-indicating-plans-revisit-some-aspects-final-rule
National Law Review article on rule, proposed rollback, and reactions -- https://www.natlawreview.com/article/epa-proposes-rescinding-certain-hfc-rules-refrigeration-and-air-conditioning