EPA Seeks Info on Phasing Out HCFCs

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The Environmental Protection Agency seeks comments on a proposed regulation that would significantly scale back the amount of hydrochloroflourocarbons (HCFCs) companies are allowed to produce and use beginning in 2015, the agency announced.
     Production and importation of HCFCs in the U.S. was capped at 15,240 metric tons in 1996 under the Montreal Protocol and the U.S. Clean Air Act, which provide a schedule for stepping down, and eventually ending, the production of HCFCs.
     The method is based on "allowances" allocated to a given company, or the maximum amount of HCFCs a company may produce in a given year.
     "In the U.S., an allowance is the unit of measure that controls production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS). A calendar-year allowance represents the privilege granted to a company to produce or import one kilogram of the specific substance," according to the action.
     Under the proposed regulation, allowances for companies producing or importing the chemicals would decrease to no more than 10 percent of the cap, or about 1,524 metric tons.
     The EPA seeks comments on that adjustment.
     The proposed regulation would implement provisions of the Clean Air Act, amended by Congress in 1990 to make sure the U.S. fulfills obligations under the Montreal Protocol. Under the 1987 international agreement, participating countries agreed to a schedule to phase out the production and consumption (consumption = production + imports - exports) of chemicals that are believed to deplete the ozone, the protective layer in the atmosphere that shields the Earth from ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun.
     The U.S. has since been phasing out ozone depleting substances on a chemical-by-chemical basis, employing a "worst first" approach.
     The London amendment to the Montreal Protocol made HCFCs a "transitional substance" while chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) were being phased out. Meanwhile, the production and consumption of HCFCs has been incrementally scaled back.
     "In 1990, as part of the London amendment ... parties identified HCFCs as 'transitional substances' to serve as temporary, lower ozone depletion potential (ODP) substitutes for chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) and other ODSs. EPA similarly viewed HCFCs as 'important interim substitutes that will allow for the earliest possible phaseout of CFCs ..." according to the action.
     In 1992, the Copenhagen amendment created a phase out schedule for HCFCs, beginning with a cap on consumption, followed by a cap on production. The production of HCFCs in the U.S. must be no greater than 10 percent of the cap by 2015, and not more than 0.5 percent of the cap by 2020. The 0.5 percent allows room for the servicing of existing refrigeration and air conditioning equipment.
     A complete phase out is scheduled for 2030, according to the action.
     In addition to being used as a refrigerant for air conditioning systems in cars and buildings, HCFCs are found in aerosol propellants, solvents and fire retardants. Hydrofluorocarbins are now replacing HCFCs because they don't deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, according to the EPA.
     The EPA also seeks comments on its implementation of the Clean Air Act's National Recycling and Emission Reduction program, which lays outs standards and requirements for the use and disposal of HCFCs.
     "Those requirements must reduce the use and emissions of controlled substances to the lowest achievable level, as well as maximize their recapture and recycling," the EPA said.
     The program also "prohibits any person maintaining, servicing, repairing or disposing of an appliance that contains refrigerant from knowingly venting, releasing or disposing of that substance to the environment," according to the action.
     Finally, the proposed regulation would establish labeling requirements for products or pieces of equipment containing HCFCs.