First published in Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer Magazine August 2015
The Environmental Protection Agency announced two final rules on July 2, finally putting to rest the angst and uncertainty of equipment manufacturers who have been so vocal about their hardships during the past year. Supermarkets now have a clearer roadmap to guide their refrigerant choice, and equipment manufacturers have enough time to make the necessary changes to their equipment to meet the regulatory deadlines set by the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program. At least now the market has certainty. For most, that’s good enough.
The two new EPA rules set a time limit for the use of certain potent global warming refrigerants in new equipment. At the same time, the agency added several lower global warming refrigerants to the list of choices available to industry.
There are some clear winners and losers built into these new rules. The winners are the equipment manufacturers who chose to put their heads in the sand over the past five years. They opted to do nothing to prepare for the future that was pretty clear to anyone who pondered it. The losers are the companies that led the charge to deliver the environmentally beneficial low-global-warming potential (GWP) refrigerants that end-users demanded, in hopes that their leadership and early action would eventually give them a competitive advantage.
The EPA rule that postponed the move to low-GWP refrigerants in self-contained equipment for several years caters to the lowest common denominator in the market, instead of rewarding the pioneers who invested early in research and development.
But the equipment manufacturers in the United States who think they have won a victory may find their relief to be short-lived. For in persuading the EPA to delay environmental progress, they have put themselves in a worse position to meet today’s end-users’ demands — demands that foreign competitors are quite able to meet. So instead of the EPA acting as an impetus to motivate American companies to catch up with the rest of the world, they have buckled under to the demands of the very people who don’t yet know they are celebrating their own demise.
Supermarkets in our country are ready to move to low GWP refrigerants, in their refrigeration systems and in their self-contained equipment. The problem they face is that they can’t find enough domestic equipment manufacturers to meet that demand. Will allowing American manufacturers another three years to catch up to today’s needs put manufacturers in a better competitive position? Of course not. The demand for better products doesn’t stop just because domestic manufacturers aren’t ready to meet it.
There are plenty of manufacturers in Europe and Japan who are able to deliver quality, low-GWP equipment — now. We’ll see a flood of companies from overseas enter the U.S. market over the next three years. And while U.S. manufacturers are catching up, their competition won’t be sitting back and standing still. Three years from now, in 2019, when U.S. manufacturers can’t avoid the environmental progress that end-users want, European and Japanese manufacturers will be several steps ahead of us again. There was a time when U.S. industry was at the forefront of innovation and design. Those days ended when our country decided that environmental progress was something to be feared and denigrated as an unnecessary cost and an unwelcome governmental intrusion, rather than an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage in the market.
PLEASE DON’T SUE!
No one is extraordinarily happy with the state of things after these two new rules were announced. Perhaps that’s the best sign that the EPA found a good compromise within the realm of the competing demands and criticisms leveled against the agency as it tried to nudge industry in the right direction. In this day and age, it seems that the most the EPA is willing to strive for is to hope that no one is unhappy enough with their decisions to sue them.