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MACS 2019 Mobile A/C update

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 - 06:00
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MACS returned to California for our annual Training Event and Trade Show (MACS 2019) on February 20-23 in Anaheim. Many of the industry’s top trainers were there from companies like ACDelco, Bosch, Carquest and Delphi (just to name a few), along with several HD manufacturers like AGCO, CAT and Komatsu. We learned about A/C troubleshooting from Honda Tech Support, what’s going on in A/C repair shops (through Ward Atkinson’s survey report), and saw new technology at the Trade Show.

Possible new EPA regulation coming in 2019

There’s been a lot of activity regarding refrigerant regulations in the last few years, and our recent saga started back in 2015 when the US EPA issued what we call “Rule # 20.” For those of us who work on passenger cars and light trucks, one of its main points said that beginning with model year 2021 vehicles, it would no longer be acceptable for manufacturers to use R-134a. This is mostly due to its GWP (Global Warming Potential), which is said to be 1,430 times more harmful to the environment than CO2 (carbon dioxide).

Following that rule (in fact, the very next day) two refrigerant manufacturers Mexican and Arkema sued the EPA over this requirement. They thought the rule was unfair because the only practical alternative OEM car makers had was to switch over and use the new R-1234yf refrigerant, which is subject to many patents that preventing them (the Plaintiffs) from making it.

Ford continues to be the only OEM who lists the oil type and system charge amount along with refrigerant information on J639 underhood labels for all of their vehicles. This helps technicians know exactly which type of oil belongs in the system and more importantly, how much.

The way they went about the court case was to say that EPA did not have the authority to regulate HFCs because the original clean air act only specified CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances. Since Congress never gave EPA authority over these global warming gases (as is proposed by the recent Paris accord and Kigali amendments to the Montreal Protocol, which our Congress has not yet ratified), EPA is not allowed to regulate them.

Federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh and two others agreed with Mexichem and Arkema, effectively throwing out that part of Rule # 20 back in August 2017. Since then there have been appeals, with the most recent going to the US Supreme Court. However, as Kavanaugh is now an Associate Justice, the highest court declined to hear the appeal, making the lower court’s rule stand.

2019 vehicle counts at PHL Auto Show
43.7% R-134a (139/318)
56.3% R-1234yf (179/318)

In the meantime, EPA issued Rule # 21 in September 2017, which gave us our current refrigerant regulations (the purchase restriction) amongst others such as self-stealing cans. The rule primarily affected Section 608 and was widely supported by industry, so nobody thought it would become an issue.

And it hasn't really, except that EPA is now reconsidering some of those regulations. Although we primarily live in the 609 world here with respect to mobile A/C, we are still affected by what happens with 608 (which includes EPA’s refrigerant management program, under which it regulates the purchase of all refrigerants).

This brings us up to date with what's been going on. But the story’s not over yet.

Back in September 2018, EPA issued a proposed rule (Protection of Stratospheric Ozone: Revisions to the Refrigerant Management Program’s Extension to Substitutes). In it they plan to revisit regulations pertaining to HFCs and other substitute refrigerants. Most of these would have the biggest effect on technicians and companies who work in the commercial / residential / industrial refrigeration markets, such as those technicians who service rooftop air conditioners on office buildings, warehouses, and residential home central air conditioning units.

Party buses and airport shuttles like this have such large interior volumes to cool that one A/C system simply can’t keep up. Note the rear ceiling-mounted evaporator / blower assembly which is driven by an independent compressor and refrigeration circuit that’s separate from the OE dash-mounted unit.

However, there is one line in the proposed rule which could affect those who work in mobile A/C. The line simply says, “EPA is also taking comment on whether, in connection with the proposed changes to the legal interpretation, the 2016 Rule's extension of subpart F refrigerant management requirements to such substitute refrigerants should be rescinded in full.” That’s a mouthful, but basically it means that EPA is considering whether it should rollback the rule requiring technician certification to purchase mobile A/C refrigerants (like R-134a and R-1234yf), along with the requirement for small can manufacturers to install self-sealing valves in those cans.

Should EPA decide to move forward with this rule, anyone would be allowed to purchase mobile A/C refrigerant (with the exception of R-12 which is statutory under the original clean air act).

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