Grocery store chain Trader Joe’s has agreed to spend $2 million to reduce coolant leaks from refrigerators at 453 of its stores to settle federal claims that it violated the Clean Air Act. The company will also pay a $500,000 civil penalty under the proposed settlement with the US Department of Justice and the EPA.
The federal agencies allege that Trader Joe’s violated the Clean Air Act by failing to promptly repair leaks of R-22, a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) that is an ozone-depleting substance and potent greenhouse gas used as a coolant in refrigerators. The company also failed to keep adequate servicing records of its refrigeration equipment and failed to provide information about its compliance record.
Per the settlement agreement, Trader Joe’s will implement a corporate refrigerant compliance management system to comply with federal stratospheric ozone regulations and to detect and repair leaks through a new quarterly leak monitoring program.
The grocery chain has also agreed to achieve and maintain an annual corporate-wide average leak rate of 12.1 percent through 2019, well below the grocery store sector average of 25 percent.
The company must also use non-ozone depleting refrigerants at all new stores and major remodels and at least 15 of these stores must use advanced refrigerants, such as carbon dioxide, that have significantly less global warming potential compared to typical refrigerants.
The settlement is the third in a series of national grocery store refrigerant cases, including cases previously filed against Safeway and Costco. These settlements come as the EPA has proposed several new actions that aim to curb emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning.
Globally, 197 countries are working to amend the international Montreal Protocol agreement to phase out HFCs. The phase-down could begin as early as this year.
Trader Joe’s is the first EPA settlement with requirements to repair leaks of HFCs to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.