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Coolant Chemicals in the Courts

On August 8, ​the​ United States Court of ​Appeals​ ​ruled against restrictions to ​products​ ​that contain​ ​hydrofluorocarbons​ ​(HFCs)​​.​ ​HFCs​ ​are​ ​a​ ​harmful​ ​greenhouse​ ​gas​ ​that​ ​trap​ ​heat​ ​in​ ​the atmosphere.​ According​ ​to​ Inside​ ​Climate​ ​News, ​​the​ ​ruling​ ​was​ ​in​ ​favor​ ​of​ ​two​ ​foreign HFC​ ​manufacturers (Mexichem Fluor and Arkema),​ ​holding​ ​that​ ​the​ ​“EPA​ ​had​ ​no​ ​authority​ ​to​ ​regulate​ ​the​ ​gases​ ​under the​ ​Clean​ ​Air​ ​Act.” This was bad news for Honeywell International and Chemours, companies that have been manufacturing less harmful coolant chemicals called hydrofluoroolefins.

The​ ​court​ ​ruling​ ​“​shows​ ​that​ ​at​ ​least​ ​some​ ​judges​ ​think​ ​the Environmental Protection​ ​Agency​ ​needs​ ​more​ ​specific​ ​authority​ ​from​ ​Congress​ ​to​ ​act​ ​on​ ​HFCs.”​ ​The legal​ ​loophole​ ​in​ ​a​ ​nutshell:​ ​the​ ​EPA​ ​has​ ​authority​ ​to​ ​regulate​ ​ozone-depleting​ ​gases,​ ​but not​ ​other​ ​harmful​ ​substances.​ ​HFCs​ ​were​ ​the​ ​alternative​ ​to​ ​the​ ​older​ ​chemicals​ ​that​ ​were harmful​ ​to​ ​the​ ​ozone​ ​layer.​ ​And​ ​though​ ​HFCs​ ​don’t​ ​deplete​ ​the​ ​ozone,​ ​they​ ​are​ ​still considered​ ​greenhouse​ ​gases​ ​that​ ​are​ ​incredibly​ ​impactful​ ​on​ ​climate​ ​change.​​ ​“Congress has​ ​not​ ​yet​ ​enacted​ ​general​ ​climate​ ​change​ ​legislation,”​ ​Judge​ ​Brett​ ​Kavanaugh​ ​wrote.​ ​In response,​ ​“Judge​ ​Robert​ ​Wilkins,​ ​an​ ​Obama​ ​appointee,​ ​dissented,​ ​saying​ ​that​ ​the​ ​EPA was​ ​due​ ​deference​ ​for​ ​what​ ​he​ ​said​ ​was​ ​a​ ​reasonable​ ​interpretation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​statute.”​ ​

Chemical and Engineering News states that “the EPA rule would have banned the use of HFC-134a as an air conditioner refrigerant in most cars and trucks sold in the U.S. starting with model-year 2021.” All avenues​ ​for​ ​appeals​ ​to​ ​this​ ​ruling​ ​are​ ​being​ ​explored.

The​ ​original​ ​Obama-era​ ​ruling​ ​was​ ​an​ ​important​ ​piece​ ​of​ ​the​ ​puzzle​ ​to​ ​meeting the​ ​Paris​ ​Climate​ ​Accord​ ​goals,​ ​and​ ​would​ ​have​ ​significantly​ ​cut​ ​our​ ​carbon​ ​emissions. This​ ​commitment​ ​to​ ​phasing​ ​out​ ​HFCs​ ​was​ ​furthered​ ​by​ ​meetings​ ​in​ ​Kigali​ ​in​ ​2016, when​ ​the​ ​Montreal​ ​Protocol​ ​was​ ​updated.​ ​The​ ​Montreal​ ​Protocol​ ​was​ ​a​ ​treaty​ ​signed​ ​in 1987​ ​that​ ​successfully​ ​phased​ ​out​ ​an​ ​older​ ​generation​ ​of​ ​refrigerant​ ​gases​ ​that​ ​are harmful​ ​to​ ​the​ ​ozone​ ​layer.

As​ ​the Inside Climate News ​article​ ​states,​ ​“the​ ​Trump​ ​administration​ ​has​ ​given​ ​no​ ​indication​ ​of whether​ ​it​ ​intends​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​the​ ​Kigali​ ​amendment​ ​before​ ​the​ ​Senate​ ​for​ ​ratification.”​ ​But there​ ​was,​ ​and​ ​still​ ​could​ ​be,​ ​hope​ ​to​ ​maintain​ ​the​ ​Obama-era​ ​rulings​ ​during​ ​the​ ​Trump administration.​ ​Chemical​ ​manufacturers​ ​that​ ​have​ ​worked​ ​with​ ​Trump​ ​are​ ​investing​ ​in more​ ​climate-friendly​ ​alternatives​ ​to​ ​HFCs.​ ​Climate​ ​change​ ​ingenuity​ ​and​ ​the​ ​bottom​ ​line are​ ​by​ ​no​ ​means​ ​mutually​ ​exclusive.​ ​The​ ​way​ ​we​ ​cool​ ​ourselves​ ​could​ ​be​ ​a​ ​bipartisan issue.​ ​American​ ​companies​ ​have​ ​the​ ​potential​ ​to​ ​act​ ​as​ ​leaders​ ​in coolant technology.​