A federal court struck down a key piece of the Obama administration's climate agenda on Tuesday by saying the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to ban the use of certain chemicals used in air conditioners blamed for exacerbating global warming.
The EPA enacted the rule in question in 2015, responding to research showing hydroflourocarbons, or HFCs, contribute to climate change.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals' 2-1 decision said EPA does not have the authority to enact a 2015 rule-making ending the use of hydrofluorocarbons commonly found in spray cans, automobile air conditioners and refrigerators. The three-judge panel said that because HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances, the EPA could not use a section of the Clean Air Act targeting those chemicals to ban HFCs.
"Indeed, before 2015, EPA itself maintained that Section 612 did not grant authority to require replacement of nonozone-depleting substances such as HFCs," the court wrote.
"EPA's novel reading of Section 612 is inconsistent with the statute as written. Section 612 does not require (or give EPA authority to require) manufacturers to replace non-ozonedepleting substances such as HFCs," said the opinion, written by Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
The Obama administration issued the regulatory changes to correspond with the 1987 Montreal Protocol that sought to stop the depletion of the ozone layer by phasing out another chemical found in aerosols. The 2015 update was part of former President Barack Obama's climate change agenda due to the impact of HFCs on the climate.
"This ruling has significant implications for our industry and we will be monitoring the EPA's response closely," said Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, whose industry is directly affected by the regulations. "Despite the court's decision, our industry remains committed to ratification and implementation of the Kigali Amendment to globally phase down the use of HFC refrigerants."
Under the Kigali agreement, the U.S. and other countries agreed to phase out HFCs and use alternative chemicals over a number of years. The agreement was seen as an adjunct to the Paris climate change agreement.
The Trump EPA will have to decide whether it will appeal the court's Tuesday ruling, which was brought by HFC manufacturers Chemours Co. and Honeywell International. "We are reviewing the decision," said an EPA representative.
The Kigali Agreement and the HFC rule have not been a specific target of the Trump administration, and given that many appliance manufacturers support the regulations, President Trump may find little in the way of problems with the regulations.
But critics of the Kigali agreement are out there, and they undoubtedly will be pushing for Pruitt to allow the court decision to stick. Myron Ebell with the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute is one of those voices. He was Trump's EPA transition chief who helped ramp up the agency.
"CEI opposes the Kigali amendment because the purpose of the Montreal Protocol to the Vienna treaty is to protect the ozone layer," Ebell said in May. And the "Kigali amendment hijacks the Montreal Protocol and turns it into a global warming treaty."