Ozone-Depleting Substances and Hydrofluorocarbons. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a category of gases used primarily as refrigerants in a variety of commercial and industrial applications. HFCs 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. 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 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:
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. 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.
Restrictions in State Law on Hydrofluorocarbons and other Ozone-Depleting Substance Substitutes. In 2019, the Legislature enacted restrictions in state law applicable to the HFC and ODS substitutes 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. The following effective dates 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 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:
In 2020, Ecology finalized 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.
Under the 2019 legislation, Ecology was also 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.
Establishing Maximum Global Warming Potential for Refrigerant Substitutes. Ecology is given authority or direction to adopt the following restrictions on ODS substitutes in specific end-uses:
Whenadopting rules to establish new restrictions on ODS substitutes in specific end-uses, Ecology may establish reporting, labeling, and recordkeeping requirements, as well as 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. Ecology must review the availability of equipment and appropriate training prior to adopting rules that establish GWP thresholds applicable to stationary air conditioning and refrigeration systems.
Refrigerant Management Program. Ecology is directed to adopt rules to establish a refrigerant management program (RMP) to reduce emissions of refrigerants, including ODSs and ODS substitutes, 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 January 1, 2024, or prior to the adjournment of the legislative session following the report to the Legislature estimating refrigerant leakage.
When establishing the RMP, Ecology must:
When 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.
Changes to 2019 Hydrofluorocarbon Legislation. The following changes are made to statutory restrictions on HFCs in certain specified uses covered by legislation enacted in 2019:
Application to Refrigerant Substitutes of Clean Air Act Provisions Addressing Ozone-Depleting Substances. The following provisions of the state Clean Air Act that currently apply to ODSs are also applied to ODS substitutes:
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.
Other Provisions Addressing Hydrofluorocarbons and Refrigerant Emissions. When assessing the energy conservation electric utilities must pursue under the 2006 Energy Independence Act, in addition to existing requirements to use the social cost of carbon as a cost-adder, qualifying utilities are encouraged to promote adoption of air conditioning systems with refrigerants not exceeding a GWP of 750 and to replace stationary refrigeration systems that contain ODSs or HFCs with a high GWP.
In the Department of Commerce (Commerce) September 2025 report to the Legislature related to the implementation of the State Energy Performance Standard Early Adoption Incentive Program, Commerce must include recommendations for aligning the incentive program with a goal of reducing GHG emissions from ODS substitutes.
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.
SBCC must adopt rules that allow use of substitutes with lower GWPs than alternative substances to the maximum extent practicable, after soliciting stakeholder input on building occupant safety and reviewing applicable provisions of the fire code or best practices to reduce fire risk. SBCC may not prohibit use of a substitute allowed under EPA's program that reviews and approves substitutes for ODSs. SBCC may adopt rules that allow use of substitutes under consideration, but not yet approved by the EPA. SBCC rules that affect the design or installation of refrigeration or air conditioning systems must be consistent with a goal of minimizing system leakage of refrigerants. 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 review actions taken by other jurisdictions and solicit feedback from potentially impacted parties and the public when 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. When enforcing requirements on ODS substitutes and refrigerants, Ecology must adhere to existing provisions applicable to Ecology's enforcement of environmental laws that relate to site inspections, technical assistance visits, notices of correction, and issuance of civil penalties. Ecology may elect to cease or refrain from implementing ODS substitute or refrigerant program requirements if preempted by EPA requirements, or if the EPA adopts requirements substantially duplicative of a state ODS substitute or refrigerant requirements and that negate the additional emission-reduction benefits of any state ODS substitute or refrigerant requirements.
If any provisions of the act or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the remainder of the act or the application of the provision to other persons or circumstances is not affected.
PRO: This bill is the next step in Washington's progress toward phasing down HFCs to lower GWP substitutes. HFCs are among the most powerful GHGs known to man, which is why they are effective refrigerants for A/C and refrigeration, but this also means when they escape in the atmosphere, they are 10 to 12,000 more times powerful than CO2. About 4 million metrics tons of annual GHG emissions come from HFCs.
HFC regulation is one of the quickest most cost effective methods to reduce GHGs. We also know cutting CO2 emissions is not enough to mitigate global warming. The 2019 laws took an important step toward switching to safer alternatives for the environment. There are great alternatives that have been developed and there is an arms race going on for who can manufacture the least climate harmful refrigerants possible. We are confident in the trajectory of industry and the state to achieve these standards.
The bill will help to establish U.S. and state leadership in phasing down these super pollutants and this is an industry backed proposal. The industry has examined the costs of switching to climate friendly refrigerants and found the costs were low.
There has also been significant investment in the development of HFC alternatives. American industry as a whole has invested more than a billion dollars to research, develop, and implement solutions to high-GWP HFCs. The bill provides regulatory certainty for manufacturers and operators and supports the significant investment in preferable alternatives to high-GWP HFCs.
There is amendment language being prepared to improve the provisions of the bill relating to building code adoption of standards to allow for substitutes with lower-GWP.
OTHER: We are supportive of some amendments to apply the de minimis exemption to each system and require Ecology recordkeeping requirements to be similar to federal requirements once they are implemented. We still believe the management program is not necessary as operators are already doing a lot of the requirements in the bill. As operators upgrade to new systems, the purpose of the program may be rendered obsolete.
It is hard to be supportive of a program that adds costs, but we appreciate the willingness by the sponsor to work on implementing this with contractors through compliance assistance, rather than penalties, and ensuring the implementation dates allow time for available equipment and training for use of the equipment.