Safeway has agreed to pay a $600,000 civil penalty to the Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Air Act. The EPA alleged that Safeway failed to make timely repairs on refrigeration units with cooling leaks. Safeway has agreed to repair or replace refrigeration in more than a third of its stores, including 16 locations in Alaska.
Pacific Regional Administrator for the EPA Jared Blumenfeld said the investigation into Safeway started in 2007 after the agency started making efforts to curb the release of ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons, also known as HCFCs, into the atmosphere.
“This is part of national initiative to look at grocery stores. We’re not exclusively looking at Safeway,” Blumenfeld said. “One of the goals is to let people know that we take these violations seriously. There are certainly other large retail chains that have refrigeration systems that we will continue to look at.”
Blumenfeld wouldn’t specify which other grocery chains were being investigated.
Safeway also agreed to implement a corporate-wide plan to reduce refrigerant emissions by 10 percent at some stores and to reduce its average leak rate from 25 percent to 18 percent at all stores by 2015. Blumenfeld said the leak rate for refrigerant systems at some stores was as high as 35 percent. He would not specify the leakage rates for stores in Alaska.
Blumenfeld said that while the Clean Air Act doesn’t regulate many smaller companies, they might not want to contribute to increased emissions. He said looking at upgrading or maintaining older refrigeration systems could save a lot of money for a mom-and-pop grocery store. Replacing coolant on a leaky refrigeration system can be costly, he said.
“It’s one of the easiest ways possible to save money is to replace an old refrigerator with a new one,” Blumenfeld said. “It saves money enough over weeks, if not months.”