U.S. EPA Highlights Refrigerant Regulations

Repairers Must Stay Informed on Requirements

During the 1970s, concern about the impact of ozone depleting substances reached a feverish pitch. Although there was much interest in those substances that likely depleted the ozone, the use of the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)-12, used at the time in motor vehicle air conditioning (MVAC) systems, didn’t end until the mid-1990s. The most common refrigerant used, since 1994, has been hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-134a. Automobile manufacturers started transitioning to more environmentally friendly alternative refrigerants in 2012.

Recently the EPA contacted the Automotive Service Association (ASA) regarding the importance of vehicle repairers staying informed about federal regulations governing mobile air-conditioning refrigerants. Section 609 of the Clean Air Act (CAA) governs the most important requirements affecting service technicians, shop owners, and refrigerant retailers.

EPA notes three general guidelines relative to refrigerant regulations:

Refrigerant: Must be approved by EPA and cannot be intentionally released (vented) to the environment.
Servicing: When payment of any kind is involved (including non-monetary), any person working on an MVAC (Motor Vehicle Air Conditioning) system must be certified under section 609 of the CAA and they must use approved refrigerant handling equipment.
Reusing Refrigerant: Refrigerant must be properly recycled or reclaimed before it can be reused, even if it is being returned to the vehicle from which it was removed.

EPA determines alternative refrigerants under its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program. SNAP lists refrigerants as either “acceptable subject to use conditions” or “unacceptable.”

In November 2016, the EPA issued a final rule updating its refrigerant management regulations.

This regulation extended the sales restriction previously imposed on R-12 to other automotive refrigerants including R-134a and 1234yf. This sales restriction went into effect on January 1, 2018 and applies to refrigerant containers 2 pounds and larger. Refrigerant sellers are responsible for determining that the buyer either 1) is a certified technician or 2) employs a certified technician. Although this latest sales restriction brings about a more recent and secondary need for Section 609 credentials, it should not be forgotten that Section 609 credentials have always been and continue to be required when servicing MVACs for payment or barter. According to Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), the new sales restrictions do not require a new Section 609 credential. Prior 609 credentials are still effective you must have proof credentials. Only those refrigerants for use in MVACs can be purchased with 609 credentials. Specifically, purchase of stationary air conditioning refrigerants are not allowed with 609 credentials only.

In addition, the EPA included an exception for the do-it-yourself (DIY) market to purchase small cans (less than 2 pounds) of MVAC refrigerant with self-sealing valves. For DIY purchasers doing work on their own vehicle, EPA requires that the purchaser be directed to the small cans of MVAC refrigerant with self-sealing valves.

Sellers of refrigerant must maintain records indicating the name of the purchaser, date of the sale, and the quantity of the refrigerant sold. EPA notes that “these records are not required for the sale of the small cans of MVAC refrigerant with self-sealing valves.” EPA also warns that “if someone other than the technician is completing the transaction, the seller must keep the documentation provided by the buyer that demonstrates that the buyer employs at least one certified technician. Selling refrigerant to someone that is not a certified technician or the technician’s employer could result in enforcement action against the vendor.”

EPA is planning to issue a proposed rule to “revisit aspects of the 2016’s rule extension of the refrigerant management regulations to substitutes”. Sales restrictions on R-134a and R-1234yf refrigerant (2 pounds or larger) remains contentious. There is currently litigation involving the 2016 rule, but the rule remains in effect as of this writing.

With regard to new vehicles, the EPA originally planned to end the use of R-134a refrigerant in new cars by the 2021 model year. This has recently been challenged in court under the argument about whether EPA has the regulatory authority to end the use of R-134a refrigerant in new cars. New products with a lower Global Warming Potential (GWP), such as R-1234yf, are already in use. Although federal legislation is unlikely in the 115th Congress due to the brevity of this session, we are likely to see legislation considered in the 116th Congress beginning in 2019. Questions relative to the scope of EPA’s legislative’s authority in this area continue to linger.

EPA notes that any person who repairs or services a motor vehicle air conditioning (MVAC) system for consideration (payment or bartering) must be properly trained and certified under section 609 of the Clean Air Act by an EPA-approved program.

EPA-approved technician training and certification (TT&C) programs provide education on the proper use of MVAC servicing equipment, the applicable regulatory requirements, the importance of refrigerant recovery, as well as the effects of improper handling of refrigerants on the ozone layer and climate. To be certified, technicians must be trained by an EPA-approved program and pass a test demonstrating their knowledge in these areas.

The EPA maintains a list of entities that are approved by EPA to train and certify individuals under section 609 of the Clean Air Act at https://www.epa.gov/mvac/section-609-technician-training-and-certification-programs .

Ignorance is never an acceptable excuse for non-compliance with regulations. Staying abreast of federal regulations affecting the automotive industry is often tedious, confusing, and never-ending. Follow industry updates by joining industry associations, attending and fully participating in industry events, and building relationships with your industry peers. The knowledge gained is critical to the vehicle repairer’s success and to the industry’s credibility in the marketplace.

For more detailed information about current refrigerant regulations, go to https://www.epa.gov/mvac.

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