EPA, Justice and Safeway settle on ozone disharge

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice last week reached a settlement with Safeway to reduce emissions of ozone-depleting refrigerants nationwide, the EPA announced in a press release.

Safeway, the second-largest grocery store chain, agreed to pay a $650,000 civil penalty and implement a $4.1 million plan to reduce its emissions of HCFC-22, a hydro-chlorofluorocarbon greenhouse gas used as a refrigerator coolant.

The agreement affects 133 Safeway stores in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, including the Homer Safeway. EPA called it the largest number of facilities involved in the Clean Air Act’s regulations governing refrigeration equipment. 

“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.”

Safeway disputed the allegations in the complaints and does not admit liability, said Sara Osborne, public and government affairs director for the northwest division of Safeway.

“The allegations in the complaint are dated from 2004 to 2007 and do not reflect a number of improvements Safeway has implemented since that time,” she said, quoting Safeway’s corporate statement.

“Environmental stewardship is important to Safeway and we will continue to ensure the health and safety of our employees and customers.”

Cook Inletkeeper, a Homer environmental group, reacted to the settlement.

“Instead of wasting time and money on enforcement, we can make Alaska more competitive if our private businesses take the lead addressing climate change,” said Bob Shavelson, the Cook Inlet Keeper.

The settlement resolves allegations that Safeway violated the Clean Air Act by not repairing promptly leaks of HCFC-22 and failing to keep adequate records of the servicing of its refrigeration equipment. Safeway will start a corporate refrigerant compliance management system to comply with federal stratospheric ozone regulations, EPA said.

Safeway also will reduce its corporate-wide average leak rate or refrigerants from 25 percent in 2012 to 18 percent or less in 2015. The company also will reduce the refrigerant emissions at its highest-emission stores by 10 percent each year for three years. 

HCFC-22 is up to 1,800 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming emissions. Under the measures Safeway agreed to do, it will prevent more than 100,000 pounds of future releases of ozone-depleting refrigerants that destroy the ozone layer. 

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

The U.S. is implementing strict reductions of ozone-depleting refrigerants, including a production and importation ban by 2020 of HCFC-22. 

EPA regulations issued under the Clean Air Act require operators of commercial refrigeration equipment that contains more than 50 pounds of ozone-depleting refrigerants, and that has an annual leak rate greater than 35 percent, repair such leaks within 30 days.  

The settlement was lodged on Sept. 4 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.