EPA Agrees To $4.5M Emissions Settlement With Jax-Based Southeastern Grocers

Aug 27, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to a settlement worth about $4.5 million with the Jacksonville-based company that owns Winn-Dixie and Harveys Supermarkets over allegations that the grocery chains violated the Clean Air Act by failing to repair and maintain equipment that was leaking ozone-depleting substances.

Also named were BI-LO and Fresco y Más, which are also owned by Southeastern Grocers, but don’t have any locations in Jacksonville.

Atmospheric ozone absorbs ultraviolet radiation from the sun. A depleted ozone could lead to increased risk for skin cancer and cataracts, as well as damage to plants and marine ecosystems.

That’s why owners or operators of commercial refrigeration equipment with more than 50 pounds of ozone-depleting refrigerants are required by the EPA, under the Clean Air Act, to repair any leaks within 30 days.

Some refrigerants even contribute to climate change. 

For example, HFCs, a common replacement for ozone-depleting chemical refrigerants, may spare the ozone layer, but they can hold up to 9,000 times the heat of carbon dioxide, making HFCs an extremely potent greenhouse gas.

In 2018, a team of scientists and policy experts at Project Drawdown, a nonprofit research organization focused on global climate solutions, ranked the top one hundred climate change solutions by their potential level of impact. Emissions reductions through the management and destruction of refrigerants topped their list.

The U.S. alleges that Southeastern Grocers Inc. and its subsidiaries failed to promptly repair leaks of class I and class I refrigerants, which are ozone-depleting substances that are used as coolants in refrigerators. 

SEG also failed to keep adequate servicing records of its refrigeration equipment and didn’t provide information about its compliance record, according to the EPA.

SEG agreed to the consent decree on Friday, August 23, 2019, which will see them spend about $4.2 million over the next three years to reduce coolant leaks from its refrigerators and other equipment, as well as improve company-wide compliance. The company will also pay a $300,000 civil penalty.

“Through this settlement, Southeastern Grocers will implement concrete steps to reduce leaks of ozone depleting gases from the refrigeration equipment in their stores,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine. “These steps will not only help to prevent damage to the environment, but should also help save energy.”

SEG has committed to implementing a corporate refrigerant compliance management system that will bring the company into compliance with federal regulations. A new bi-montly leak monitoring program should also help with the detection and repair of leaks.

On top of that, SEG is aiming for an annual corporate-wide average leak rate of 17% through 2022. The grocery store sector average is 25%.

SEG will also be required to use non-ozone depleting advanced refrigerants at all of its new stores, as well as at 15 existing stores.

“This consent decree will help assure SEG’s future compliance with the Clean Air Act’s ozone-depletion program — by requiring leak monitoring, centralized computer recordkeeping, and searchable electronic reporting to EPA,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The settlement is the fourth in a series of national grocery store refrigerant cases. Previous suits were filed against Safeway, Costco Wholesale, and Trader Joe’s.

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.