Ozone-Depleting Substances and Hydrofluorocarbons.
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a category of gases used primarily as refrigerants in a variety of commercial and industrial applications. Hydrofluorocarbons are among the greenhouse gases (GHGs) identified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Ecology (Ecology) as a result of their capacity to trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere. According to the EPA, the global warming potential (GWP) of HFCs and other GHGs is measured as a function of how much of the gas is concentrated in the atmosphere, how long the gas stays in the atmosphere, and how strongly the particular gas affects global atmospheric temperatures. Under state law, the GWP of GHGs are measured in terms of their equivalence to the emission of an identical volume of carbon dioxide over a 100-year timeframe (carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2e). In rules adopted by Ecology for purposes of measuring GHG emissions, the GWP of HFCs ranges from 12 to 14,800.
In 1987 the United States and other members of the United Nations committed, in an agreement known as the Montreal Protocol, to phase out the use of certain ozone-depleting substances (ODSs). The United States Congress subsequently amended the federal Clean Air Act in 1990 to provide authority to the EPA to restrict the use of ODSs and to require manufacturers to use HFCs or other non-ODS substitutes.
In 1994 the EPA promulgated regulations authorizing the use of certain HFCs as a substitute for ODSs in specified products. However, in 2015 the EPA promulgated new regulations that entirely prohibited certain HFCs and other ODS substitutes or restricted their use to specified circumstances. Products and uses covered by the HFC restrictions in the EPA's 2015 regulations include aerosol propellants, motor vehicle air conditioning systems, retail food refrigeration and vending machines, and foams. In August 2017 the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the portion of the EPA's 2015 regulations that applied to HFCs on the basis that the EPA had exceeded the federal statutory authority granted to it in 1990 to regulate substitutes of ODSs.
In addition to federal Clean Air Act restrictions, since 1991, the state Clean Air Act has also restricted ODSs in a number of ways:
Ecology was directed to adopt rules to implement these ODS restrictions, including enforcement procedures and rules that establish minimum performance specifications for refrigerant extraction equipment. However, Ecology's enforcement procedures may not include penalties or fines in areas where equipment to collect or recycle regulated refrigerants is not readily available.
Restrictions in State Law on Hydrofluorocarbons and other Ozone-Depleting Substance Substitutes.
In 2019 the Legislature enacted restrictions in state law applicable to the HFCs and ODS substitutes that were specified in the court-vacated 2015 EPA regulations, with the exception of restrictions in the EPA regulations on motor vehicle air conditioning. Under this law, persons may not sell, install, offer for lease, rent, or otherwise cause restricted equipment or products to enter commerce in Washington. Effective dates of between 2020 and 2024 were established for each of the types of products covered by the court-vacated EPA regulations:
For any restricted uses covered in the 2015 EPA regulation but not covered by the above list, the effective date of the restrictions is January 1, 2020, or the effective date of the EPA regulation, whichever comes later. The restrictions do not apply to products manufactured prior to the effective date of a restriction, except that when products or equipment are retrofit from using one refrigerant to another, the product or equipment may not use a restricted HFC. Manufacturers of products that contain or use ODS substitutes must disclose the use of the ODS substitutes in the form of:
For restrictions in the EPA regulation on motor vehicle air conditioning, Ecology may adopt rules restricting the uses addressed by the EPA regulation within 12 months of another state's enactment or adoption of such restrictions. Ecology is also required to expeditiously propose a draft rule to conform with any future EPA approval of certain previously prohibited HFC blends for foam blowing and spray foam.
Ecology was directed to adopt rules to implement the 2019 HFC restrictions. In adopting rules Ecology was required to be consistent with or the same as the regulations adopted by the federal government or with other states that have adopted restrictions on HFCs and other ODS substitutes. Ecology was authorized in adopting rules to:
In 2020 Ecology finalized the adoption of rules to implement the 2019 legislation. In the 2020 HFC rule, Ecology modified the effective date of restrictions on HFCs in vending machines that had been established in the 2019 legislation.
As part of the same 2019 legislation that established these restrictions on HFCs, Ecology was directed to complete a study and submit a report to the Legislature on HFCs, including recommendations for eliminating legacy uses of HFCs subject to the new restrictions in state law and of HFCs that are not subject to the new restrictions in state law.
Recent Federal and Other State Actions to Address Hydrofluorocarbon and Refrigerant Emissions.
In December 2020 the United States Congress enacted the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (AIM Act) establishing federal restrictions on HFCs. The AIM Act establishes a phase-down of the production and consumption of HFCs in the United States to 15 percent of baseline levels by 2036. In order to produce or consume regulated HFCs, persons must hold tradeable allowances that are to be assigned in an allocation process specified under EPA regulations to be finalized in 2021.
The AIM Act also authorizes the EPA to establish rules to restrict the use of HFCs in specific sectors or subsectors. States are preempted for five years under the AIM Act from regulating the use of HFCs in metered-dose inhalers, defense sprays, certain polyurethane foams for marine and trailer uses, certain semiconductor manufacturing, mission-critical military uses, and in onboard aerospace fire suppression.
A number of states have enacted restrictions on uses of HFCs that are similar to those enacted in Washington in 2019. In addition, the State of California, regulating through the California Air Resources Board (CARB), has implemented other programs to reduce HFC emissions, including the establishment of a refrigerant management program intended to reduce leaks from certain stationary refrigeration and air conditioning systems, and a deposit-return program applicable to small cannisters of HFC refrigerants used in motor vehicle air conditioning. In December 2020 the CARB also adopted rules that establish a maximum GWP for new stationary air conditioning, new stationary refrigeration equipment, and new ice rinks, among other HFC emission reduction measures.
State Clean Air Act: General.
Ecology and seven local air pollution control authorities have each received approval from the EPA to administer aspects of the federal Clean Air Act in Washington. The Air Pollution Control Account is used to fund Ecology's responsibilities in developing and implementing the state Clean Air Act. Violators of state Clean Air Act requirements are subject to criminal and civil penalties. Civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation are authorized by the state Clean Air Act.
Energy Conservation Requirements Applicable to Certain Utilities.
The Energy Independence Act (EIA) was approved by voters in 2006. The EIA requires an electric utility with more than 25,000 customers to meet targets for energy conservation and to meet a certain percent of its annual load with eligible renewable resources. These utilities must pursue all available conservation that is cost-effective, reliable, and feasible. Every two years, the qualifying utility must review and update an assessment of its achievable cost-effective conservation potential for the subsequent 10-year period.
Building Efficiency Incentive Program.
In 2019 the Department of Commerce (Commerce) was directed to establish a State Energy Performance Standard Early Adoption Incentive Program (incentive program). Eligible building owners may submit applications to Commerce for incentive payments, which are to be based on early compliance with applicable energy use targets that begin to become a mandatory compliance standard as early as 2026. Beginning September 30, 2025, Commerce must report to the Legislature on the results of the incentive program and provide recommendations for improving the effectiveness of the program.
State Purchasing and Procurement Policies.
The Department of Enterprise Services (DES) is responsible for providing products and services to support state agencies and sets policies and procedures for the state's purchases. State agencies covered by the DES's procurement policies include all executive and judicial branches of state government including: offices; divisions; boards; commissions; higher education institutions; and correctional and other institutions. The DES may enter into agreements with other state agencies that delegate certain authority to those agencies to purchase their own goods and services.
State law establishes certain preferences for the procurement of goods or services that meet a variety of criteria. In 2019 the Legislature directed the DES to establish a purchasing and procurement policy favoring HFC-free products, or products that use ODS substitutes with comparatively low GWPs.
State Building Code Council.
The State Building Code Council (SBCC) is a state agency that adopts and triennially updates the State Building Code (Code). The Code adopted by the SBCC establishes the minimum building, mechanical, fire, plumbing, and energy code requirements applicable to the construction of buildings. In 2019 the Legislature directed the SBCC to adopt rules that permit the use of allowed ODS substitutes and that do not require the use of the newly restricted ODS substitutes.
Application to Hydrofluorocarbons of Clean Air Act Provisions Addressing Ozone-Depleting Substances.
The following provisions of the state Clean Air Act that currently apply to ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) are also applied to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs):
Ecology is no longer prohibited, in enforcing refrigerant restrictions, from imposing penalties or fines in areas where equipment to collect or recycle refrigerants is not easily available.
Changes to Restrictions on Hydrofluorocarbons and Ozone-Depleting Substance
The following changes are made to statutory restrictions on HFCs in certain specified uses covered by legislation enacted in 2019:
Ecology is given authority or direction to adopt the following additional restrictions on HFCs in specific end-uses:
In adopting rules to establish these new restrictions on HFCs in specific end-uses, Ecology may establish reporting, labeling, and recordkeeping requirements, as well rules to grant variances from restrictions. To the extent practicable, rules must be harmonized with similar requirements established by Ecology for a refrigerant management program and must be consistent with similar programs adopted in other states.
Refrigerant Management Program.
Ecology is directed to adopt rules to establish a refrigerant management program (RMP) to reduce emissions of refrigerants, including ODSs and HFCs, from activities and equipment responsible for significant emission volumes. The program must include larger stationary refrigeration systems and larger commercial air conditioning systems. Ecology must submit a report to the Legislature providing data on refrigerant leakage from existing stationary refrigeration and air-conditioning systems regulated under RMP rules. Ecology may not require compliance with RMP requirements prior to July 1, 2023, or prior to the adjournment of the legislative session following the report to the Legislature on refrigerant leakage.
In establishing the RMP, Ecology must:
In establishing the program, Ecology may:
Owners or operators of refrigeration and air conditioning systems in the RMP must provide leak rate documentation to prospective purchasers of the system.
Ecology may collect annual fees from air conditioning and refrigeration system operators regulated in the RMP. A refrigerant emission management account (Account) is created for the deposit of fees imposed under the RMP.
Other Provisions Addressing Hydrofluorocarbons and Refrigerant Emissions.
In assessing the energy conservation that electric utilities must pursue under the 2006 Energy Independence Act, qualifying utilities are encouraged to consider structuring conservation efforts so as to reduce GHG emissions from refrigerants used in incentivized products and equipment.
In the Department of Commerce's September 2025 report to the Legislature related to the implementation of the State Energy Performance Standard Early Adoption Incentive Program, the Department must provide recommendations for aligning the incentive program with a goal of reducing GHG emissions from substitutes for ODSs.
The Department of Enterprise Services must establish a purchasing and procurement policy that provides a preference, in serving existing equipment, for reclaimed refrigerants that meet minimum quality standards established by the EPA.
The State Building Code Council (SBCC) must adopt rules that allow the use of substitutes with lower GWPs than alternative substances to the maximum extent practicable, but only if the substitutes do not present a risk to building occupant safety or conflict with the fire code or best practices to reduce fire risk. The SBCC may adopt rules that allow the use of substitutes that are not yet approved by the EPA. The SBCC rules that affect the design or installation of refrigeration or air conditioning equipment must be consistent with a goal of minimizing system leakage of refrigerants. The SBCC must solicit input from affected parties prior to adopting rules addressing substitutes, refrigerants, and refrigeration systems or air conditioning systems.
By December 1, 2021, Ecology must provide recommendations to the Legislature for the design of a program to address end-of-life management and disposal of refrigerants. Ecology must solicit feedback from potentially impacted parties and the public in developing the recommendations. The recommendations must include specific design considerations regarding:
Violations of restrictions on refrigerants are subject to penalties authorized under the Clean Air Act, and must be deposited in the Account. In enforcing restrictions on HFCs and refrigerants, Ecology must adhere to existing protocols generally applicable to Ecology's enforcement of environmental laws that relate to site inspections, technical assistance visits, notices of correction, and the issuance of civil penalties.
A severability clause is included.
The substitute bill makes the following changes to the original bill.
Global Warming Potential Standards and other Product Restrictions:
Refrigerant Management Program:
(In support) Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emission reduction policy is good for the economy and the environment. Leaking refrigerants cost money, and refrigerant management programs are effective tools to reduce leaks. End-of-life venting of refrigerants is an important tool to address emissions. Companies have invested in the development of low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants. By establishing standards for low-GWP air conditioners and other equipment, companies will have regulatory certainty as to the future. Standards in Washington should be amended to align with recently adopted standards in California and should include residential air conditioning. Downstream regulations of refrigerant use in Washington will work within and support the national phase-down in HFCs under recent federal legislation. The bill should not restrict the ability for home car mechanics to use self-sealing cannisters of refrigerants. Small containers of refrigerants can represent significant sources of emissions and should be restricted. The engineering standards referenced in the bill for State Building Code adoption should cite the forthcoming, updated versions of the standards.
(Opposed) A pandemic is a poor time to establish a new regulatory program for the refrigeration systems of grocery stores and to establish new standards that will require significant technician training. Facilities should be allowed to replace leaking refrigeration systems, rather than be required to replace them. The bill presumes that a new system of reporting and fees is necessary to address problem leaks, and assumes we have a leak problem that may not exist. Many stores have automatic leak-detection in place. This bill comes too soon after the enactment of related restrictions on HFCs in 2019. The bill should not restrict low-GWP HFCs in aerosol products like air fresheners. The cost of transitioning to new refrigerants and purchasing new refrigeration systems will be passed on to customers. Low-GWP refrigerants may have flammability concerns. The State Building Code Council process is convoluted and does not provide a good forum for stakeholder input.
(Other) Recent federal legislation will be effective at nationally reducing HFC emissions. Hydrofluorocarbon emission reductions can represent a win for both the American economy and the environment. In order to reduce HFC emissions, updates to state building codes to allow newer, low-GWP refrigerants is often necessary. Careful attention must be paid to the definitions included in the bill to ensure that regulation of air conditioning equipment establishes a comprehensive and level regulatory playing field. The Environmental Protection Agency's refrigerant management requirements related to leaks have loopholes that can be exploited. Appropriate training of refrigerant technicians is important to achieving emission reductions. Expanding the scope of utility incentive programs to consider refrigerants will result in emission reductions. The bill should not fully prohibit the use of HFCs in cleaning products and similar consumer goods, but should instead abide by the restrictions on high-GWP HFCs that were recently adopted in Department of Ecology rules.
The second substitute bill:
(In support) Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are powerful greenhouse gases (GHGs) even in small quantities, which have alternatives that do not pollute in the same way. Hydrofluorocarbons are the fastest growing type of GHG, and most cost-effective to reduce. This bill builds on the work of a law passed two years ago by addressing the use and maintenance of products producing HFCs. There is business support for reducing HFCs, because there are businesses in the state that produce the alternatives to HFCs. The bill would reduce the state's dependence on HFCs, help the climate crisis, and help the market transition to better alternatives. The bill provides regulatory certainty and would help the state stay consistent with other states that have adopted similar actions. It would be helpful if the bill clarified that the Department of Ecology must estimate leakage, rather than measure it directly.
(Other) In order for the national transition away from HFCs to take place, state building codes must be updated to enable the use of refrigerants with a low global warming potential (GWP). The bill places responsibility on the State Building Code Council for ensuring rules adopted to allow for substitute refrigerants do not present any risk to building occupants. The bill should reference the list of acceptable refrigerants from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The addition of the study on leaks to the bill was appreciated. The timing in the bill is concerning, particularly the state process for HFC regulation as compared to the similar EPA process. The bill should include an analysis of market availability, training availability, and cost of the refrigerants that would replace HFCs. A delay in the implementation date would better allow businesses to meet both the requirements of the bill addressing HFCs that passed two years ago and this bill.