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EPA Penalty Can Prove Costly To Companies

Refrigeration and air-conditioning systems; commercial refrigeration; heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; fire protection systems; and other equipment using refrigerant gas are part of the phase out program now underway in the United States. Facilities that use this ozone-depleting gas risk a significant EPA penalty by not following requirements under the U.S. Clean Air Act.

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.

There are substantial costs to violators, so it’s essential for businesses and municipalities to track every pound of gas and manage its inventory across all locations. According to the EPA penalty guidelines, a $32,500 fine per day, per unit is assessed for refrigerant leaks not fixed within 30 days and a $300K per 30 pound cylinder is levied for the illegal purchase of used or imported refrigerant gas.

Under the law, comments are being accepted and updates and proposals can be made. But on January 1, 2010, the phase out of refrigerant gas is official and the EPA penalty is more strictly enforced. The government agency is already taking civil and criminal actions against companies nationwide who violate the law, collecting billions of dollars in fines to date.

Refrigerant gas contains chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons, which have been found to be the major contributors of ozone depletion. For this reason, use of the gas is being reduced, with total elimination forthcoming. Under the law, the use of R-22 refrigerant gas will be reduced by 75% by 2010 and completely eliminated by 2015. The EPA penalty climbs as the phase-out plan progresses.

EPA penalty policies under the U.S. Clean Air Act closely follow those established in the international Montreal Protocol and Kyoto Protocol. The intent of the treaties is to reduce the use of refrigerant gas in order to reverse the damaging effects on the ozone layer and prevent global warming in the future. The fines are necessary to encourage facilities to make changes to their carbon foot print so the environment can remain healthy for years to come.

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