California acts to limit powerful climate-changing chemicals

March 30, 2018 – The California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted a regulation prohibiting the use of specific refrigerants known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), powerful chemicals that trap heat in the atmosphere at a rate thousands of times that of carbon dioxide, the most common of the climate-changing gases. The action was taken to preserve and continue in California some of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA) prior prohibitions on HFCs. Last year, a decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals limited U.S. EPA’s authority in this area.

“The Board’s action today preserves the federal limits on the use of these powerful chemicals and refrigerants, and provides more certainty to industry,” Board Chair Mary D. Nichols said. “We applaud the actions of many industries, which already have made significant investments in developing and using more climate-friendly alternatives to the high-global warming HFCs.”

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California is experiencing the effects of climate change and has committed to take action in order to meet state and federally mandated emissions reduction goals. Under Senate Bill 1383 (SB 1383), a law authored by Senator Ricardo Lara in 2016, California must reduce HFC emissions by 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030. California already has established an approach to reduce super-pollutants, the short-lived climate pollutants that include methane, black carbon and a range of powerful climate-changing chemicals and refrigerants, such as HFCs.

CARB was relying substantially on U.S. EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) rules to help meet California’s emission reduction goals for HFCs. HFC emission reductions are important to ensure California ultimately meets its larger climate goals. As a result of the recent court decision, California had to pass its own regulation to ensure it could meet those goals.

The regulation affects certain stationary refrigeration and foam end-uses. It preserves emission reductions from specific sectors with past or shortly upcoming compliance deadlines and will prevent manufacturers from backsliding to start using high-global warming HFCs again. Most manufacturers already have transitioned, or begun the transition, to alternatives that have less of an impact on climate, that is, substances with much lower global warming potential.

The regulation adopted today applies mainly to equipment manufacturers, which cannot use prohibited HFCs in new refrigeration equipment or foams. Prohibited HFCs cannot be used in new equipment and materials in California for the following end-uses:

Supermarkets and Remote Condensing Units, which are small refrigeration systems used by convenience stores;
Refrigerated Food Processing & Dispensing Equipment, for example Slurpee machines and frozen yogurt dispensers;
Stand-alone, or small self-contained refrigeration units;
Refrigerated vending machines; and
Foams used in buildings and other places.

Also under the new regulations, manufacturers are responsible for a disclosure statement that must certify the product uses only compliant refrigerants or foam expansion agents. The regulation makes some of the partially vacated SNAP prohibitions enforceable in California, and will lead to in an estimated 3.4 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent emission reductions annually by 2030. While more reductions are necessary for California to meet its legal mandate imposed by SB 1383, this regulation is a good start.

CARB’s mission is to promote and protect public health, welfare, and ecological resources through effective reduction of air pollutants while recognizing and considering effects on the economy. The CARB oversees all air pollution control efforts in California to attain and maintain health based air quality standards.