EPA Issues Final Rule To Phase Down HFCs As White House Announces Measures To Prevent Illegal Imports

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The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized a rule intending to reduce the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the United States by enforcing a cap and phasedown program under the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act.  According to the EPA, the final rule will phase down U.S. production and consumption of HFCs by eighty-five percent over the next fifteen years.  Beginning January 1, 2022, allowances will be required to produce or import HFCs.  The first of such allocations are to be announced by the EPA by October 1, 2021.  The AIM Act instructs the EPA to issue a fixed quantity of transferrable production and consumption allowances, which producers and importers must hold in quantities equal to the amount of HFCs they produce or import.  Alongside the EPA’s final rule, the EPA and other federal agencies under the Biden Administration announced additional actions intended to reduce consumption of HFCs, with a focus on curtailing and controlling illegal imports.

The final rule establishes HFC production and consumption baselines, a statutory phasedown schedule of allowed production and consumption, and the EPA’s approach to allocating and allowing transfer of allowances.  According to the EPA, a global HFC phasedown is expected in order to avoid the most severe consequences of climate change.  Producers and importers of HFCs should begin to consider how to adapt their businesses to the phasedown and how to take advantage of potential HFC alternatives.  According to the phasedown schedule, steep reductions in allowances are planned for 2024 and 2029 to bring HFC production and consumption down to thirty percent against the baseline.  The EPA will set the initial allocation for each producer and/or importer based upon the individual entity’s production and/or import for the highest three-year period during the 2011-2019 period.  The AIM Act had originally established the baseline to be the three-year period of 2011-2013, but the proposed rule published by the EPA in May 2021 had modified that to 2017 to 2019.  Now with the final rule, the EPA has determined that using the average of the highest three years in the 2011 to 2019 window would ensure an equitable phasedown consistent with prior phasedowns.

The Administration announced the formation of an interagency task force consisting of the EPA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prevent and disrupt illegal importation of HFCs into the United States.  The announcement of measures to prevent illegal imports follows reports of a surge in illegal trade in HFCs in Europe due to the European Union’s strict regulation of the greenhouse gases.  The White House nods to this issue in its fact sheet on the matter, referring to “rates of noncompliance similar to what has been observed in other countries…”  With the issuance of the EPA’s final rule, the U.S. has adopted a similar policy on HFCs but aims to avoid the enforcement issues observed in Europe, which have undermined the purpose of HFC regulations.

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