Pleasanton, California-based Safeway, the nation’s second-largest grocery chain, agreed to a legal settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fix refrigeration units in 659 stores that are leaking ozone-depleting gases into the atmosphere.
It is the largest case ever under the Clean Air Act’s ozone protection requirements, according to the EPA. The settlement addresses Safeway’s failure to promptly fix leaks of HCFC-22, a hydro-chlorofluorocarbon that is a greenhouse gas used as a refrigerator coolant. The gas is up to 1,800 times more potent than carbon dioxide, as far as global warming is concerned.
It is apparently the first time that the EPA has successfully gone after a grocery chain for this type of offense. “This first-of-its-kind settlement will benefit all Americans by cutting emissions of ozone-depleting substances across Safeway’s national supermarket chain,” said Robert G. Dreher, acting assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, who hinted that other companies may be breaking the law, too. “It can serve as a model for comprehensive solutions that improve industry compliance with the nation’s Clean Air Act.”
Safeway agreed to pay a $600,000 penalty and make repairs estimated to cost $4.1 million, but, in a not-unusual move, admitted no liability. The settlement, which is now open to a 30-day period of public comment, affects about half of the company’s 1,412 stores in the United States.
Safeway owns stores in 138 cities in the state and operates under the name Vons in Southern California. More than 100 stores in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington are included in the settlement.
The EPA lawsuit also charged that the company failed to keep proper records of equipment service and repair. As part of the settlement, Safeway agreed to implement an electronic centralized system for refrigerant tracking and repair so it can be determined if the company has complied with an order to reduce its “Corporate Wide Average Leak Rate” from 25% in 2012 to 18% by 2015.
The EPA said the leaks do not constitute a direct threat to communities near the offending stores. But the repairs will stop the dumping of around 100,000 pounds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that are a detriment to us all, leading to skin cancer, cataracts and immune system suppression.