While attending the Heating, Airconditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) convention in Orlando last November, I made a special effort to attend the educational session, “The Latest on [Refrigerant] Regulatory Issues,” because the speaker, Julius Banks, was there from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I wanted to hear what he had to say, and, BOY! Things appear to be in quite a mess.

I’m sure that by now you know that manufacturing new HVACR equipment using the HCFC refrigerant R-22 is a thing of the past. But I was shocked to hear that things which come pre-charged with the refrigerant, such as refrigerant lines, condensers, etc., will be illegal for you to sell as of the first of next year (2011). So, I guess they are telling you to dump the refrigerant into the atmosphere (or try to recover it) before you sell those products, if you still have anything in stock.

He also said that unless the EPA comes up with a ruling before 1/1/10, it will be illegal to manufacture or import any R-22 at all! Hopefully, by the time you read this, the industry meltdown will have been averted by such a ruling. But it’s all coming down to a few days and the latest decisions that are coming from federal offices.

Mr. Banks’ slide presentation showed the EPA as predicting that there will be enough R-22 to meet the industry service needs through 2016… although some R-22 A/C equipment will still be under warranty up to 2019. And the problem with his figures is that they were all based on using 20% of the total refrigerant in existing systems being recovered and recycled (currently, that number is less than 5%).

Then someone raised the question of why most contractors aren’t returning used refrigerant for recovery. The consensus was that it isn’t an economically-viable option. One supply-house owner pointed out that several of his contractors are charging their customers a hefty price to remove the “environmentally hazardous” material (R-22?), and then dumping it into the atmosphere anyhow. Yes, that’s the state of our industry.

Another person asked Mr. Banks why the EPA isn’t enforcing the government rulings prohibiting refrigerant dumping. He answered, “Our division of the EPA is very small (they only list five contact names), and we don’t have anyone to enforce the rulings.”

Finally, someone asked the question that I had on my mind: “Then what happened to the $10,000 rewards that the Clean Air Bill stipulated would be paid to anyone who turns in violators?” His answer? “I’ve been with the EPA for many years, and Congress has never allocated the funds to pay these rewards.”

So in my opinion, the refrigerant recovery debacle is currently in a state of meltdown. And then Mr. Banks pointed out that legislation to start the phase-out of HFCs (the current “new” refrigerants, such as R-134A and R-410A) could start as early as next year. Here we go again! Any question why the economy is in such bad shape?