In response to a strong consumer backlash, Biden administration regulators now insist they are not considering a ban on natural gas stoves, at least for time being. But that’s hardly the only home appliance they are targeting as part of the administration’s overarching climate change agenda. As the Competitive Enterprise Institute and 13 other free market organizations explained in a regulatory comment to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the latest proposal affecting air conditioners is bad news for any homeowner who wants to stay cool in the summer.
Specifically, the EPA’s proposed rule would require the use of supposedly climate-friendlier refrigerants in new air conditioning and refrigeration systems. For residential air conditioners, it would mandate this change for equipment manufactured after January 1, 2025.
Bottom line: The most widely used refrigerant in these systems, R-410a, is deemed environmentally unacceptable under the EPA’s proposal and would have to be replaced in new equipment by other refrigerants. Refrigerants are not interchangeable, so air conditioning equipment offered for sale starting in 2025 will have to be redesigned to use one of the new compounds.
Not surprisingly, the companies making the new refrigerants and equipment joined environmentalists in petitioning the agency for this rule. If finalized, the makers of these “green” air conditioners would no longer face competition from the more affordable systems using R-410a. In effect, the government would limit competition and skew the market toward costlier models.
In addition, many of the new refrigerants under consideration are classified as mildly flammable, so there may be new risks to go along with the higher price tag. The new systems will also be costlier to repair.
Air conditioning isn’t just a luxury good, but a proven life saver. One study estimates that its widespread adoption in the U.S. has saved 18,000 lives annually. Of course, the benefits of air conditioning only accrue to those who can afford it. However, despite all the environmental justice initiatives undertaken by the Biden EPA, the agency expresses no concern about the costs of its anti-air conditioning agenda and potential disproportionate impacts. Instead, it simply assumes away any costs, even admitting in its proposed rule that it relies on claims made by the makers of the new refrigerants and equipment.
The EPA’s proposed rule targeting new air conditioners comes on the heels of several others, including ones that boost the cost of fixing existing systems by limiting supplies of the needed refrigerants. The agency is even making life more difficult for the service technicians who repair this equipment with all sorts of red tape impacting them, including a future requirement that refrigerants be carried around in heavier and costlier refillable cylinders instead of the much preferred non-refillable ones. No doubt, such measures will also boost repair bills.
Meanwhile, new Department of Energy efficiency standards for home air conditioners take effect this year, and these measures have a track record of raising upfront costs more than is likely to be earned back in the form of energy savings for many consumers. In sort, home air conditioners are under attack from multiple sides, and the cumulative burden is growing.
And who knows what else regulators have in store for our air conditioners in pursuit of the administration’s climate agenda. We do know they don’t like them any more than gas stoves.