The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced February 28 that it has withdrawn a “direct final rule” that would have raised the charge limit to 150 g from 57 g for three hydrocarbon refrigerants in domestic refrigerators and freezers.

The reason for the withdrawal was the receipt of “adverse comment” from stakeholders during a comment period that ended January 25, the agency said in a “prepublication version” of the document it is submitting for publication in the Federal Register. The EPA added that it would address “all significant comments in any subsequent final action,” which would be based on a parallel proposed rule that was identical to the direct final rule.

The withdrawal notice, signed by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, applied to SNAP Rule 22: “Protection of Stratospheric Ozone: Revision to References for Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Sector to Incorporate Latest Edition of Certain Industry, Consensus-based Standards.”

The direct final rule – along with a parallel proposed rule – was published in the Federal Register on December 11, 2017. Both rules would raise the charge limit (a use condition) for three flammable (A3) refrigerants – isobutane (R600a), propane (R290) and R441A (a hydrocarbon blend) – in new household refrigerators, freezers and combination refrigerators/freezers under the EPA’s SNAP (Significant New Alternatives Policy) program.

The rules would do this by incorporating a new standard (60335-2-24) announced last year by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) that increased the charge limit for hydrocarbons in domestic refrigerators to 150 g from 57 g following an assessment of flammability risks.

The agency originally said it was issuing the increase in charge limit as direct final rule because “EPA views this as a noncontroversial revision and anticipates no adverse comments. This action does not place any significant burden on the regulated community and ensures consistency with industry standards.”

However, the EPA added, “if we receive adverse comment, we will withdraw the direct final rule and it will not take effect.”

The 57 g limit is widely seen as an impediment to the adoption of energy-efficient hydrocarbon refrigeration in the U.S. domestic market. Elsewhere in the world, where 150 g has long been the charge limit for domestic refrigerators, hydrocarbon units have gained substantial market share.

“The few [adverse] comments that raised concerns can be addressed without changing the substance of the rule.”

Christina Starr, Environmental Investigation Agency

Given that the EPA still has an identical proposed rule in the Federal Register, consideration of the charge-limit increase is expected to go forward, albeit without a new comment period.

“It’s really more of a process matter,” said Christina Starr, climate policy analyst, Environmental Investigation Agency, who submitted a favorable comment on the direct final rule to the EPA. She added that “the few [adverse] comments that raised concerns can be addressed without changing the substance of the rule.”

Starr noted that the increase in the charge limit of hydrocarbons in domestic refrigerators to 150 g received “practically unanimous support” among affected stakeholders that were engaged in a consensus-based process to finalize the revised UL safety standard, upon which the EPA its direct final and proposed rule. “The delay is unfortunate and unnecessary, but in my view it should still be feasible for EPA to respond and issue the final rulemaking this year,” she said.

One of the adverse comments on the proposed final rule, available in the public docket at (under docket number EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0472) came from Robert Keys, New York, who described himself as “a retired Battalion Chief from the New York City Fire Department” who served for over 30 years.

“This change concerns me because I have not heard anything about it in any of the fire service journals such as Firehouse or Fire Engineering,” he wrote. “I wonder if this change has been vetted by the fire service? I am concerned about the implications of this change on firefighter safety.”

 The EPA originally approved isobutane for use in domestic refrigerators in 2012, and propane in 2015. 

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