Court says EPA overstepped authority in refrigerant phaseout
U.S. chemical companies Chemours, Honeywell supported phaseout
The Trump administration’s attempt to defend one aspect of Barack Obama’s climate agenda failed as a federal court tossed a regulation to limit harmful chemicals used in air conditioners and refrigerators.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, in a 2-1 decision, ruled Tuesday the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority in prohibiting the use of certain refrigerants that are potent greenhouse gases. In its 2015 regulation, EPA relied on a statute that regulated use of ozone-depleting substances, but the refrigerants -- called hydrofluorocarbons -- don’t damage the ozone layer, Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the court’s decision.
The EPA under President Donald Trump has moved to undo the other major regulations issued under Obama that were designed to address climate change, with Administrator Scott Pruitt questioning the degree to which humans are responsible for global warming. In this case, with U.S. chemical companies Honeywell International Inc. and The Chemours Co. supporting the rule, Trump’s Justice Department defended the regulation.
It did so "because it benefits U.S. companies," said Christopher Perrella, a Bloomberg Intelligence chemicals analyst. "It’s good for the companies and it’s good for the planet. That’s a win-win regardless of your thoughts on climate change."
Arkema SA of France and Mexichem SAB de CV of Mexico brought the lawsuit against EPA. Arkema didn’t respond to a request for comment and Mexichem declined to comment. An EPA spokeswoman says the agency is reviewing the court’s decision.
HFCs were designed as a replacement for another class of chemicals -- chlorofluorocarbons -- that deplete the ozone layer. The U.S. has been a leader in replacing HFCs, which are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming, and companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in plants, equipment and other upgrades to make way for the alternatives.
Chemours told investors Monday that the markets for its replacement chemicals in Europe and the U.S. will be a key driver of its growth in the coming years. Europe banned the use of HFCs in 2012. Dozens of nations, including the U.S., agreed to phase down their use as part of the 2016 Kigali Amendment to the United Nations Montreal Protocol.
“We are deeply disappointed in today’s ruling because it will adversely impact American innovation, manufacturing and competitiveness in commercializing next-generation, technologies," Honeywell said in a statement. "We strongly encourage the EPA to continue pursuing the phase-out of HFCs and the benefits it provides."
— With assistance by Andrew M Harris