EPA enforcement of the ozone depleting substance (ODS) regulations

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Courtesy of Courtesy of Verisae

Is Your Organization Flirting With EPA Compliance Risk? The EPA Enforcement Office will issue fines for undocumented refrigerant gas usage as it relates to ozone depleting substances. Do you know how to mitigate this compliance risk? The phase-out program of refrigerant gas is now in full swing and facilities that use equipment requiring the use of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) are at risk for a substantial EPA penalty if they fail to follow the requirements outlined in the U.S. Clean Air Act related to data management and usage reporting. Equipment that must be tracked includes refrigeration and air-conditioning systems, commercial refrigeration, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, and fire protection systems.

To avoid an EPA penalty, companies, municipalities and property managers that utilize refrigerant equipment must monitor its usage and submit documentation outlining refrigerant management efforts. Those who fail to do so face substantial fines. As such, many facilities are relying on refrigerant tracking and reporting programs that automatically manage their use of refrigerant, identify leaks, track repairs and guide in proper disposal. This allows them to keep current with government policies, compliance requirements, and penalties for non-compliance.

Overseeing the EPA penalty aspect of the U.S. Clean Air Act is the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. They are aggressively pursuing enforcement of the requirements to curb harmful gas emissions. Auditors and inspectors are permitted to make spot inspections to review a facility’s records pertaining to regulated gases. Those unable to produce proper documentation, or have incomplete or missing data are subject to heavy fines.

The EPA penalty applies to facilities that improperly emit, vent, or dispose of refrigerant gas. The law requires proper servicing and safe removal of any equipment using restricted substances. Noncompliance could result in fines of up to $25,000 a day, per violation. Additional fines are added if the refrigerant gas is not properly recovered. Because of the substantial penalties involved, the government has developed a technician certification program for anyone who provides service, repair, maintenance, or disposal of equipment containing refrigerant gases.

Under the EPA penalty guidelines, refrigerant leaks not fixed within 30 days are subject to a $32,500 fine per day, per unit. Furthermore, purchasing used or imported refrigerant gas calls for fines of $300,000 per 30 pound cylinder of refrigerant gas. With so much money at stake, it is crucial for business entities, organizations, and municipalities to track every pound of gas and manage its inventory, especially those with more than one location where records management and ease of reporting becomes difficult.

Any amendments to the environmental laws usually allow for a period when comments are accepted and updates to the regulations are proposed and implemented. Currently, the EPA and other governmental agencies are taking civil and criminal actions against companies nationwide who violate the law. The total of fines collected is in the billions of dollars each year. With the added incentives related to carbon emissions management and the World’s heightened awareness of climate change it is fully anticipated that more stringent and more restrictive measure will be placed on all substances that harm the environment.

Because refrigerant gas contains chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons, identified as the major causes of ozone depletion, its use is being reduced, and eventually eliminated, worldwide. The plan reduces the use of R-22 refrigerant gas by 75% by 2010 and eliminates it by 2015. The EPA penalty increases as the complete phase-out comes to a close.

EPA penalty policies are based on the guidelines established by the U.S. Clean Air Act, and its international counterparts, the Montreal Protocol and the Kyoto Protocol, to control the use of refrigerant gas as a means of reducing the damaging impact it has on the ozone layer and lower the potential for global warming. Penalties are being issues to protect the environment and to encourage facilities to improve their carbon foot print.

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