Energy & Environment

Court strikes down Obama EPA’s restrictions on Earth-warming gases

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A federal court on Tuesday struck down an Obama administration rule that banned certain uses of certain gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration.

The court said that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot ban hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under a Clean Air Act provision meant to protect the ozone layer, since that section is meant only to stop ozone-depleting substances.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s 2-to-1 ruling puts a dent in a major piece of former President Obama’s climate-change agenda.


When released into the atmosphere, HFCs are extremely potent greenhouse gases, with an Earth-warming potential up to 14,800 times that of the same volume of carbon dioxide. They break down in as little as 15 years, so phasing out the use of HFCs could bring quick results to greenhouse gas-cutting efforts.

The substances came into wide use in recent years, following the 1990 Clean Air Act, which sought in part to phase out the use of gases that depleted the ozone layer.

HFCs grew rapidly as a substitute, but since they are greenhouse gases the Obama administration wanted to phase them out as well, and it got industry support for its efforts.

The appeals court ruled Tuesday, however, that the EPA cannot invoke the same Clean Air Act provision used to phase out ozone-depleting substances for HFCs.

The agency relied in part on saying that the law allowed it to require companies to “replace” harmful substances continually, the judges said.

“EPA’s current reading stretches the word ‘replace’ beyond its ordinary meaning,” Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the court, joined by Judge Janice Rogers Brown. Both were nominated to the court by former President George W. Bush.

“EPA’s authority to regulate ozone-depleting substances under Section 612 and other statutes does not give EPA authority to order the replacement of substances that are not ozone depleting but that contribute to climate change,” the court said.

The judges ruled that the EPA can, however, remove HFCs from the list of acceptable substances for companies to use if they haven’t already phased out ozone-depleting gases.

Judge Robert Wilkins, an Obama appointee, dissented with the majority’s ruling on the HFC phaseout. He said that the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act was acceptable.

In the case, Mexichem Fluor Inc. v. EPA, two companies that manufacturer HFCs sued to stop the regulation.

While the Trump administration has worked diligently to undo Obama’s climate change policies, it nonetheless defended the HFC regulation in court and sent attorneys to argue the case in February.

The EPA declined to comment on the decision beyond saying that the agency is reviewing it.

Tags Barack Obama Climate change Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gases hydrofluorocarbons
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