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EPA reaches settlement with Safeway to reduce emissions of ozone-depleting refrigerants nationwide

Release Date: 09/04/2013
Contact Information: Dale Kemery, EPA Office of Public Affairs, kemery.dale@epa.gov, 202-564-7839/4355

Largest case ever under Clean Air Act’s ozone protection requirements

(Seattle – September 4, 2013) Safeway, the nation’s second largest grocery store chain, has agreed to pay a $600,000 civil penalty and implement a corporate-wide plan to significantly reduce its emissions of ozone-depleting substances from refrigeration equipment at 659 of its stores nationwide, estimated to cost approximately $4.1 million, in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice. Up to 133 Safeway stores in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington are included in today’s settlement.

The settlement involves the largest number of facilities ever under the Clean Air Act’s regulations governing refrigeration equipment.

The settlement resolves allegations that Safeway violated the Clean Air Act by failing to promptly repair leaks of HCFC-22, a hydro-chlorofluorocarbon that is a greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting substance used as a coolant in refrigerators, and failed to keep adequate records of the servicing of its refrigeration equipment. Safeway will now implement a corporate refrigerant compliance management system to comply with federal stratospheric ozone regulations. Safeway will also 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. The measures that Safeway has committed to are expected to prevent over 100,000 pounds of future releases of ozone-depleting refrigerants that destroy the ozone layer.

EPA regulations issued under Title VI of the Clean Air Act require that 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 U.S. 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.

The settlement is part of EPA’s national enforcement initiative to control harmful air pollution from the largest sources of emissions, including large grocery stores.

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 with 1,412 stores in the U.S. 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 covers 659 Safeway stores – all Safeway stores in the U.S. that have commercial refrigeration equipment regulated by the Clean Air Act, except for those stores in Safeway’s Dominick’s Division, which was the subject of a 2004 settlement with the U.S.

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 http://www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.