Politics

EPA nominee to face questions about air-conditioning refrigerant approval

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Anne Hobson Contributor
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Environmental Protection Agency administrator nominee Gina McCarthy will likely face tough questions today about her responsibility for the EPA’s promotion of an automotive air conditioning refrigerant known to cause engine fires in Mercedes-Benz tests, according to the Daily Mail. A hearing on McCarthy’s nomination is set for Thursday.

McCarthy is currently the EPA’s air regulation chief.  She was primarily responsible for moving forward with a plan to reward US automakers who used a refrigerant known as “HFO-1234yf,” one EPA staffer said. The new refrigerant resulted in less emission of green-house gas into the atmosphere than other refrigerants such as FREON and the current industry standard R134A.

McCarthy said that the HOF-1234yf “helps fight climate change and ozone depletion.”  Yet, her office never mentioned the harmful consequences revealed in tests conducted by Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz.

During testing in December, Daimler engineers found that small leaks of HOF-1234yf turned a car’s engine compartment into a blaze.  The refrigerant combined with the air-conditioning compressor oil spraying across the engine block, produced a hot composition of toxic gas, easily resulting in flames.

The gas mixture included hydrogen fluoride, a corrosive compound known to cause blindness and skin deformity when humans are exposed. The industry’s standard refrigerant produces a nonflammable leak. The explosion also resulted in hydrofluoric acid, a deadly substance that is so corrosive that exposure to a a body part the size of one’s palm can result in death.

According to Professor Andreas Kornath, a chemistry researcher at the University of Munich, told the Daily Mail that “The chemical is, due to its flammability, too dangerous for use.”

The Society of Automotive Engineers disagrees.  Based on their tests, General Motors put the new refrigerant in 2013 Cadillac XTS and ATS models. Daimler, which had installed the refrigerant in hundreds of its 2013 SL-roadsters, recalled them after performing its own tests.  German automakers Volkswagen/Porsch and BMW also refuse to use the refrigerant.

Daimler’s report suggests that a head-on collision in which the refrigerant line is severed would produce an inferno. Daimler spokesman Matthias Brock told the Daily Mail that the EPA had spoken with Germany’s environmental agency about the tests.

Under McCarthy’s authority, the federal government provides special credits toward achieving the required Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.  The EPA made a provision accepting the new refrigerant as an acceptable partial substitute for cars with low fuel economy to increase their average numbers.

“Trading a refrigerant swap for fuel-economy credit would never have happened without [McCarthy],” tan EPA source is quoted as saying.

Bill Wilson, the president of Americans for Limited Government said that it is “outrageous that Gina McCarthy is being considered for a promotion, when her actions in pushing this dangerous refrigerant into American automobiles shows a callous disregard both for consumers and the environment.”

“If anything, she should be fired,” he added, “and a special counsel should be appointed to get to the bottom of whether this approval is malfeasance or just incompetence.”

“It will possibly come up in the hearing and as the nomination process moves forward,” Luke Bolar, a spokesman for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Ranking Republican David Vitter, told the Daily Mail.

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Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.