09 Oct 2017

Reading American tea leaves on future environmental policy

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The US Government and its policies typically have tremendous pull on what happens in the rest of the world, including Australia. While it is unclear whether the world will follow this President and his administration is uncertain.

Trying to discern a logical approach in the current administration’s announcements is challenging. This article briefly canvasses two things that didn’t happen and that may well be of interest to AREMA members. Their significance in the overall direction of US policy is unclear.

1. Energy Efficiency

Despite having finalised new MEPS for air conditioners and refrigerators, the US Administration chose not to publish the new rules.  This meant that they would not take effect.  After being sued by several states and environmental groups, however, the rules were released on 26 May 2017.  Whether the initial lack of publication was intentional or a mistake is uncertain, as is the reversal and the decision to publish.  We will watch this space.

2. Phasing Down HFCs

The Obama administration’s approach to delivering the US phase down was based on delisting gases in the SNAP (Significant New Alternative Policy) rules.  It is a bit confusing, so please bear with me.

The US originally decided to meet its Montreal Protocol obligations by listing every use of ODS refrigerants and then putting firm dates from when they could not be used.  The rules also explicitly listed what gases could be used – often high GWP HFCs.  The Obama administration decided to delist high GWP HFCs and list new alternatives (HFOs, HFC blends and naturals) as replacements.

Two companies (Mexichem and Arkema) did not like this approach and sued the EPA saying it was illegal and outside the scope of the overriding legislation – the Clean Air Act – which in the relevant part focused on ozone protection.  In August this year, the court released its decision which said that the approach taken by the US EPA was illegal.

The deadline to file an appeal in the case was 22 September 2017.  While an appeal was lodged by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and two other parties (believed to be Chemmours and Honeywell), the EPA opted not to appeal.

This is an example where the dog that did not bark may mean something – everything even – or nothing at all.  Does the Administration want to pursue an HFC phase down? – we really do not know for sure.  All this lack of a decision does is raise the level of uncertainty about a domestic US phase down of HFCs and hint that the Trump Administration is not interested in pursuing ratification of the Kigali Amendment at this point.  Everything else remains opaque.

There will be more to this soap opera in the future – stay tuned.

Greg Picker
AREMA Technical & Policy Advisor