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Environment: Safeway to pay fine for leaky freezers

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Keeping that ice cream frozen has an environmental cost.

Under settlement with EPA, company agrees to cut emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Under a court-ordered settlement, Safeway will pay a $600,000 fine and upgrade equipment and management practices to cut emissions of ozone-depleting refrigerants by 100,000 pounds.

The improvements will come at a cost of $4.1 million, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which detailed the agreement in a Sept. 5 news release. The settlement affects 659 Safeway stores across the country — the largest number of facilities ever under the Clean Air Act’s regulations governing refrigeration equipment.

At issue are releases of HCFC-22, a hydro-chlorofluorocarbon that is a greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting substance used as a coolant in refrigerators. The EPA had alleged that Safeway violated the Clean Air Act by failing to promptly repair leaks of HCFC-22.

Safeway will now implement a corporate refrigerant compliance management system to comply with stratospheric ozone regulations. In addition, Safeway will reduce its corporate-wide average leak rate from 25 percent in 2012 to 18 percent or below in 2015. The company will also reduce the aggregate refrigerant emissions at its highest-emission stores by 10 percent each year for three years.

“Safeway’s new corporate commitment to reduce air pollution and help protect the ozone layer is vital and significant,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Fixing leaks, improving compliance and reducing emissions will make a real difference in protecting us from the dangers of ozone depletion, while reducing the impact on climate change.”

“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 Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “It can serve as a model for comprehensive solutions that improve industry compliance with the nation’s Clean Air Act.”

HCFC-22 is up to 1,800 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming emissions. EPA regulates owner or operators of commercial refrigeration equipment that contains over 50 pounds of ozone-depleting refrigerants, and that has an annual leak rate greater than 35 percent repair such leaks within 30 days.

HCFCs deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, which allows dangerous amounts of cancer-causing ultraviolet rays from the sun to strike the earth, leading to adverse health effects that include skin cancers, cataracts, and suppressed immune systems.

Pursuant to the Montreal Protocol, the United States is implementing strict reductions of ozone-depleting refrigerants, including a production and importation ban by 2020 of HCFC-22, a common refrigerant used by supermarkets.

Corporate commitments to reduce emissions from refrigeration systems have been increasing in recent years. EPA’s GreenChill Partnership Program works with food retailers to reduce refrigerant emissions and decrease their impact on the ozone layer and climate change by transitioning to environmentally friendlier refrigerants, using less refrigerant and eliminating leaks, and adopting green refrigeration technologies and best environmental practices.

Safeway, headquartered in Pleasanton, Calif., is the second largest grocery chain in North America with 1,412 stores in the United States and 2012 revenues of $44.2 billion. Safeway operates companies under the banner of Vons in southern California and Nevada, Randalls in Texas, and Carrs in Alaska.

The settlement was lodged today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. It will be available for viewing at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.
More information on today’s settlement: http://www2.epa.gov/enforcement/safeway-inc-clean-air-act-settlement

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