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  • Bad Law Writing and Keeping You Cool

    Posted by Dan from Madison on September 16th, 2010 (All posts by )

    Beginning on January 1, 2010, manufacturers in the US were not allowed to make any new refrigeration or air conditioning equipment that was pre-charged with R-22. Originally, the EPA had written in that not only would no new equipment be allowed to be manufactured with R-22 in it, but no replacement parts would be allowed to be sold for the existing systems.

    This gave everyone in my industry (HVAC) a huge gasp – there are literally tens (hundreds?) of millions of systems installed across the United States that have R-22 in them – everything from your household window air, to a central air conditioner, to the reach in coolers at a convenience store, to a beer tap cooler, to industrial chilling processors. The industry had to (at much time and expense) heavily lobby EPA to get this part of the law written out. It was a huge sigh of relief for everyone when this part of the laws was written out. What were we (I run an HVAC wholesaler) to do for warranty if an R-22 unit took a dump? Replace the whole thing instead of a tiny component?

    The major manufacturers all knew of the impending January 1, 2010 deadline and had fully converted their manufacturing processes to making units that were pre-charged with the new environmentally friendly refrigerant, R-410a (R-410a is used primarily for air conditioning purposes and I will limit this discussion to that to keep it simpler). This includes all manufacturers of hotel units, window air conditioners, and central air conditioners (I am certainly leaving out some).

    Since R-410a involves higher operating pressures than R-22 (significantly higher), technicians were forced to have training to use the new chemical, and buy all new tools to handle the higher pressures. Many were also forced to buy new torch sets. With the old R-22 you could soft solder the joints – with R-410a and the higher pressures that it brings, everyone that wasn’t brazing with 15% silver was forced to do that. Distributors such as myself had to invest a lot of time, energy and money into training our customers so they would use the correct lubricants (those changed from mineral to ester oil), techniques and methods to selling and installing the new R-410a units. Part of the training was to show our customers (hvac contractors) how to educate homeowners about the new refrigerant, and why their broken down air conditioner would require a complete system change out since the old components were not compatible with the new R-410a components.

    BUT…

    Lets take another look at the first sentence of my post.

    Beginning on January 1, 2010, manufacturers in the US were not allowed to make any new refrigeration or air conditioning equipment that was pre-charged with R-22.

    Quickly the Chinese found this loophole. They immediately began to manufacture units that used R-22 but were shipped dry – in other words, the end user would charge up the unit with R-22 and off they went. This disrupted my business (and everyone else’s) a bit and everyone was scratching their heads as to whether or not this was legal. I just found out today that it is.

    Guess what else I just found out? It would take literally years for Congress to close this loophole. Guess what else I just found out? The EPA will not prosecute or try to do anything about it because the government feels sorry for the poor and elderly who may not have enough money for a complete system change (I have only heard this orally, I do not have a good source but I believe it). Guess what else I just found out? ALL of the major manufacturers of air conditioning units are at this very moment gearing up to start producing – you guessed it – DRY R-22 UNITS.

    So for all the posturing, training, tooling, re-tooling, experimenting, tool purchasing and everything else, we are getting ready to go back to the future. It is incredible how sad this is for my whole industry and for everyone (including myself!) who has invested time, blood, sweat and money to try to do the right thing. Leave it to politicians to write a law about something that they know nothing about, and to get it 100% wrong in the process.

     

    21 Responses to “Bad Law Writing and Keeping You Cool”

    1. David Foster Says:

      If it’s legal according to the letter of the law, how could the EPA prosecute it even if they wanted to?

    2. Dan from Madison Says:

      True, they can’t, I wrote that poorly. But EPA could certainly push Congress to act on it, which they are not.

    3. Michael Kennedy Says:

      If you think that example is the end of it (I know you don’t), think about health care. Most of the 2000 pages of the bill were about setting up commissions to write regulations that no one even knows about. One small example; In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, there was a great hue and cry about secrecy since the diagnosis was a death sentence and because it suggested somebody had been careless or (you fill in the reason).

      The original bill made it illegal for anyone but the patient to know the result of the test. A doctor could order a test but wasn’t allowed to know the result. When we complained (I was still running a trauma center), we were told to treat ALL patients as though they had AIDS. Then it wouldn’t be a problem. These people had never been in an operating room, had never treated an AIDS patient, let alone an AIDS trauma patient. I used to throw my underwear away after a bad trauma case. They had no idea what they were talking about but they wrote the law.

    4. Dan from Madison Says:

      Yes Michael Kennedy, this is what we get when these folks are voting on 2,000 page laws that they haven’t even read, nor bother to care to understand. Hopefully Lex’s Insurgency will come sooner rather than later.

    5. vivictius Says:

      In that case I wish they could just go back to R-11, that stuff is still better then anything out today.

    6. Dan from Madison Says:

      There is still a lot of r-11 out there in older industrial chillers that haven’t been converted to an alternate refrigerant. They used to spray that stuff on airplane wings too as a defroster iirc.

    7. Everett Hamilton Says:

      Perhaps if we looked at the lobbying effort that went into the original E.P.A ruling we would find the answer. Are the same manufacturers here that made the original product now buying from China and taking a profit from the producer’s in China? Lobbyists and trade representatives assist Congressional aides in writing the bills. No human being in the Senate or House of Representatives could ever read all of the pages of any of these bills. In reality they spend the largest percentage of their time dialing for dollars from the day they enter Congress. After stringing the wholesaler along and letting them buy new equipment (did the same company making the units also make the new equipment?) , then the law is conveniently ignored as the Chinese produce at cheaper prices.

    8. David Foster Says:

      This offers one more example of why the economy can’t be micromanaged from the top down. Congress involves itself in thousands of issues, ranging from baseball to refrigerants, and can’t possibly have the mental bandwidth to do a good job on even a small portion of them. They must either write bad legislation, or delegate dangerous levels of authority to the regulatory agencies.

    9. Lexington Green Says:

      David, you are correct.

      Query: How would we draft legislation or an amendment that would eliminate this kind of regulatory action at a single blow, or a serious of blows?

      To cut back the jungle one leaf at a time is hopeless.

    10. David Foster Says:

      The way this problem gets fixed in businesses (when it does) is that the CEO, no matter how egotistical, just can’t stand his workload anymore, and delegates with well-defined responsibilities. And as the business grows further, the people to whom he has delegated need to do the same thing, and so on.

      But it doesn’t always get fixed: Often, founders (especially if they have no big-company management experience) really can’t grasp the idea of delegating responsibilities rather than just individual tasks, no matter how much lip service they pay to it, and hence stall their growth unnecessarily. And even relatively-good executives often fail to use incentive systems which could reduce the need for repetitive detailed decision-making (example: measure and pay your sales reps on margin rather than revenue, and you won’t have the endlessly adjudicate “we-can’t-sell-this-unless-you’ll-let-me-discount-it” disputes)

      All of the above is far from the mindset and experience of the typical CongressCreature.

    11. Dan from Madison Says:

      Everett – I thought the same thing but everything I have heard and read seems to support the fact that the US based manufacturers are not in cahoots with the Chinese producers.

    12. Everett Hamilton Says:

      Dan-Thanks for the reply and I believe you are correct after talking to some business associates. Watching the closing down of drilling off the Gulf Coast and now seeing all of the billions guarnteed to Petrobas for deep drilling off the coast of Brazil puts me on edge with a theme of wealth redistribution. Do you know who within the E.P.A. signed off on the call.

    13. Ric Locke Says:

      Lex —
      “Query: How would we draft legislation or an amendment that would eliminate this kind of regulatory action at a single blow, or a serious of blows?”

      Every rule, order, directive, command, regulation, or other ukase of Government, however named or styled, for violation of which any Person may be deprived of life, liberty, or property in any degree whatever if convicted, is a Law; and every Law of the United States shall be introduced before, and debated and passed by, the Congress, and approved by the President, as required by Article I, section 7, of this Constitution; but no law shall be deemed passed by either House of the Congress, until it shall have been read aloud, in its entirety, by a member of that House, before a quorum of that House, or one-half plus one of its Members, whichever is the greater Number.

      That’ll take a while to circumvent. Another century, maybe.

      Regards,
      Ric

    14. Mr Black Says:

      How would we draft legislation or an amendment that would eliminate this kind of regulatory action at a single blow, or a serious of blows?

      ==

      No elected member of the government may vote on a bill (or sign it in the case of the president) until they have sat in their respective chambers for a full public reading of said bill. No agency may enact any regulation that has not been made into law by this same process.

      ==

      I think that would gum up the works pretty well.

    15. Dan from Madison Says:

      “Do you know who within the E.P.A. signed off on the call.” – Sorry, I don’t have that info for you Everett. I may be finding out next month as both of the residential manufacturers that I represent are having emergency meetings on the subject that I will be attending.

    16. Michael Kennedy Says:

      The oil drilling and light bulb bans are particularly suspect. There is a strong odor of rent seeking there.

    17. Everett Hamilton Says:

      Dan-Thanks I would be interested in finding out. I’m attending conferences in D.C. almost weekly, so if I get any information will post it.

      Michael-Rent seeking is exactly the ticket.

    18. Daran Says:

      Seems obvious to me. But then again, I’m still waiting for car manufacturers to chip-tune the engines on new cars to meet all CAFE rules, and then *totally accidentally* release information on how you can log on to the diagnostics console and enable performance mode on the engine.

      They could sell the same car in a ‘green’ version and in a ‘performance’ version, where the only difference is that the performance version has the powerful engine settings by default and the cost increase is just enough to offset the CAFE penalty. Of course the customer can always buy the green version, drive around the block, enter the dealership for a service check and have the engine setting adjusted for free.

    19. Challeron Says:

      Somewhere I read, some time ago (and since it was only of passing interest at the time I didn’t follow any references), that the real reason for changing from CFCs to HCFCs was because General Electric’s patent on Freon was about to expire, so that anyone could manufacture Freon; and since GE already had an alternate chemical in the waiting….

      It might not have been GE, though at the time that name stuck out in my mind because of all of the heavy lobbying (a.k.a. bribery) they’d been doing in Congress (heh: Where’s Immelt these days?); but it was always one of those curiosities that stuck in my craw: How was the chlorine in Freon destroying the Ozone Hole when the O.H. was over Antarctica and all of the Freon was being used in the Northern Hemisphere? And then I read a NASA report, from where they were testing robots to possibly explore Venus by dropping them down the sides of an enormous open hole in the Earth’s crust … in Antarctica … a hole which the report said was “spewing millions of tons of chlorine into the upper atmosphere” … and which hole was directly below the Hole In The Ozone Layer … and I started to connect the dots….

    20. Dan from Madison Says:

      Challeron – the ban on cfc’s is a whole different conversation but I can maybe enlighten a bit.

      The name Freon is a trademark owned by DuPont – there are many different refrigerants, and many of them are called “freon”. Sort of like “Kleenex” instead of tissue. As far as I know, GE hasn’t been in the refrigerant business.

      410a wasn’t introduced the day after the r-22 bans started happening – it was quite a long process. The throttling down of r-22 production has been going on for a good decade or so and won’t be over for another few years. For more information, read the wiki on the Montreal Protocol – it is pretty informative.

      So, in the end, this re-introduction of R-22 air conditioners will only last for a few years, simply because the refrigerant r-22 itself will have to be stopped being made. Then again, maybe the game will change once more. It is really annoying to a guy like me who tries to do the right thing and play by the rules. The rules are one thing, but I am afraid that I am playing the wrong game sometimes.

    21. Mike Cunningham Says:

      Challeron,

      Methinks you are forgetting your basic Physics.

      I accept that just about all the Freon is generated, and of course dumped, into the Northern Hemisphere.

      I also accept that the Ozone hole was over Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere.

      What you then have to accept is that all the Freon simply rolled down the hill, from top to bottom, Northern Hemisphere to Southern Hemisphere, and THEN went into the atmosphere, and made the Hole in the Ozone layer.