Several small business owners, like grocery stores, stand ready to fight the state Department of Environmental Conservation's plans to phase out most refrigerants to reduce New York's carbon emissions, arguing the proposed rules are too aggressive and would force businesses to shutter.

The state agency in December proposed amendments to its regulations of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are man-made gas compounds traditionally used in most coolants or refrigeration at supermarkets, in pharmaceuticals and other industries. The DEC has proposed to phase out the refrigerants, which contribute to climate change, by 2034 – or a few years ahead of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's requirements to transition away from the substances.

The DEC will hold two public hearings Wednesday about the state's proposed rules.

"They're gonna leave some collateral damage if this gets through," said Dale Norton, vice president of Meier Supply Company Inc., an HVAC supply company with locations across the state and Pennsylvania.

Norton is one of several business leaders who says he was blindsided by the rules, pushing him and other organizations to send the DEC a letter detailing their concerns about the updated HFC regulations. The DEC received a slew of letters in the last two weeks from small businesses and corporations that rely on commercial refrigeration or cooling systems expressing concern about the changes and potential impacts on the upstate economy.

FIA_letter_nygov_0227v1 by Matthew

HFCs are extremely potent greenhouse gases and have hundreds to thousands of times higher global warming potential than natural refrigerants, according to the DEC.

But Norton argues the DEC's new rules go too far in requiring companies phase out HFCs faster than EPA mandates. He also questions the DEC's use of stricter metrics than the federal government to measure impacts of global warming.

Several business owners are concerned about using less effective alternative refrigerants. The changes would force manufacturers to rely on more environmentally friendly solutions that use CO2, ammonia or propane, but business leaders say the technology does not yet exist to support the state's regulations.

"It takes more energy for a system that might run on propane or CO2 to get the same amount of air conditioning and refrigeration," Norton said.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said misinformation is the catalyst for a significant portion of small businesses' concerns about the agency's HFC regulations.

"I really encourage the communities to spend time reading the proposal," Seggos told Spectrum News 1 on Friday at an unrelated event. "HFCs are so-called 'super pollutants' – they're really important for addressing our climate crisis." 

Seggos said the regulations would require businesses to transition away from older refrigerant technology and does not ban refrigerants of every scale. 

Private entities can also apply to the DEC to show evidence the entity cannot comply with the regulations due to economic hardship, because a compliant substance is not available or other factor. All facilities located in disadvantaged communities or retail food stores and small businesses are eligible to apply.

"This is targeted, largely, at some of the larger facilities," Seggos said. "This is not going to impact homeowners, this is not going to impact small businesses. Many of the smaller grocery stores would not even be subject to this, and some of the large ones wouldn't, either. ... Our intent is to remain as consistent as possible with the state's climate law and also with the direction that the country's going in in terms of phasing out the old forms of HFCs."

Business owners who will be affected by the rules have circulated petitions in recent weeks and plan to attend Wednesday's public hearings to plead with the DEC to pump the brakes.

DEC's rules would phase out HFCs in newly manufactured or installed products in the coming years, and new small business owners fear they cannot shoulder the cost of new equipment and necessary training.

A full HFC phase-down has a projected nationwide net overall economic benefit of up to $269.9 billion, according to an EPA analysis of similar requirements. DEC’s proposal would result in $288 million to $540 million in economic benefits to the state based on New York's population, according to the DEC. EPA’s analysis found no direct costs to consumers.  

Assemblyman Bill Conrad, a Democrat from Tonawanda, first learned about the DEC's proposed regulations from a concerned constituent in Western New York who owns a small grocery store, and is worried the changes will put him out of business.

The assemblyman said he's concerned about the impact on grocery and convenience stores, which contribute to food deserts in vulnerable communities.

"They would close down, and that would equal a food desert," Conrad said. "And there's, I think, a lot of situations where there could ring true."

Conrad submitted comment to the DEC, asking the agency to reconsider the timeline of its regulations and for specific carve outs for small businesses.

"This could affect school districts," the assemblyman said. "I think this affects blood banks; I think this affects farmers and the dairy industry; I mean, the list goes on."

Conrad added he wants the state to focus on more proposals to conserve energy instead of just banning contributors to climate change. But the state agency and executive oversee DEC regulations, so the Legislature does not have an official say.

The assemblyman said he hopes the public hearing will start a serious dialogue about how the state can strike a balance between protecting the environment while supporting the state economy.

"We want to reach our goals and there are many ways to do that," Conrad said of the 2019 Climate Act. "I've been a big proponent of reducing our carbon footprint via conservation of energy, via insulation and so on in buildings. I think that's a big conversation we should be having and I think we're aiming in a different direction right now."

The DEC will accept comments on its proposal to phase out HFCs through 5 p.m. March 19. Submit comments to