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Trader Joe’s is forced to fix refrigerators, cut greenhouse gas emissions

A Trader Joe’s store in Sunnyvale, Calif. (Getty Images)

Trader Joe’s will spend millions of dollars over the next several years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its refrigeration equipment as part of a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department.

Federal officials had alleged that the grocery chain had violated the Clean Air Act by failing to repair leaks of “R-22,” an ozone-depleting substance and potent greenhouse gas that is commonly used as a coolant in refrigerators. Investigators also claimed that the California-based company had failed to keep adequate service records for its refrigeration equipment and failed to provide information about its compliance record.

As part of the settlement announced Tuesday, Trader Joe’s agreed to spend an estimated $2 million over the next three years to cut down on coolant leaks from refrigerators and other equipment and to put in place a program to better detect and repair leaks. The company also pledged to cut its “average leak rate” to less than half of the grocery industry average, and it vowed to use non-ozone depleting refrigerants at all of its new or significantly renovated stores. At least 15 of those stores must use advanced refrigerants, such as carbon dioxide, that have far less potential to contribute to global warming.

The company also will pay a $500,000 civil penalty.

“Taking action to combat climate change is a priority for the Obama administration, and this settlement will result in substantial cuts to one of the most potent greenhouse gases,” Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a statement. “These company-wide upgrades Trader Joe’s will make are not only good for the environment, they set a high bar for the grocery industry for detecting and fixing cooling leaks.”

A company spokeswoman, Alison Mochizuki, said in an emailed statement Tuesday that “Trader Joe’s looks forward to working with the EPA in its mission to reduce air pollution and protect the ozone layer, and, with this agreement, has committed to reducing its emissions to a rate that matches the best of the industry.”

Government officials estimated that the settlement, if carried out, could result in reductions of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the amount produced by 6,500 passenger vehicles over the course of a year.

Under current EPA regulations, owners and operators of commercial refrigeration equipment that contain more than 50 pounds of ozone-depleting refrigerants are required to fix any leaks within 30 days after detecting them. Roughly one-third of Trader Joe’s equipment uses hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, or HFCs, that are non-ozone depleting, but that still have a high potential for contributing to global warming. R-22 is a powerful greenhouse gas that has 1,800 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, according to the EPA.

Tuesday’s case, which affects more than 450 Trader Joe’s locations, marks the third time that a national grocery chain has settled with the government over refrigeration practices. In 2013, Safeway agreed to pay a $600,000 penalty and significantly reduce its emissions nationwide. The following year, Costco agreed to take similar actions at hundreds of stores, as well as pay $335,000 in penalties.

Read more at Energy & Environment:

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Supreme Court rejects case challenging key White House air pollution regulation

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