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New York Grocer to Spend Millions to Settle Clean Air Act Violations

Lawsuit alleges Gristedes violated refrigerant management regulations during 2019-21
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
The New York supermarket chain Gristedes will pay a $400,000 civil fine and spend $13.5 million on repairs and upgrades to settle charges that its store refrigerators emitted far more greenhouse gases than competitors.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently revealed that the United States filed a civil lawsuit against Gristede’s Foods NY Inc. alleging violations of the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Recycling and Emissions Reduction Rule (RER Rule) due to the grocer's failure to comply with regulations designed to limit the emission of refrigerants from appliances at its store. To resolve the lawsuit, the United States and Gristedes entered into a consent decree that will cost the food retailer millions.

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As alleged in the United States’ complaint filed in Manhattan federal court:

Gristedes has owned and operated a chain of approximately 20 supermarkets in New York City. Between 2019 and 2021, despite utilizing regulated refrigerants known as hydrochlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons at its supermarkets, Gristedes systematically failed to comply with key aspects of the RER Rule — failing to calculate the rate at which its appliances were leaking when adding new refrigerants, failing to timely repair leaks, failing to conduct verification testing after repairing appliances, failing to retrofit or retire leaking appliances, and failing to report chronically leaking appliances to EPA. 

As a result, Gristedes’ refrigerators have leaked refrigerants into the atmosphere at a rate far higher than industry standards. These leaks have emitted more than 40,000 pounds of regulated climate-impacting refrigerants.

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“Between 2019 and 2021, Gristedes systematically violated EPA refrigerant regulations, resulting in greenhouse-gas emissions at a rate far higher than others in the industry,” said Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “To give a sense of scale, Gristedes’ emissions had a global-warming effect equal to driving a car 140,000,000 miles. As a result of our lawsuit, Gristedes is now required to reduce its emissions by over 70% from their 2020 levels to offset at least some of the damage it has caused, and it will face significant additional penalties under the consent decree if it fails to do so.”

The consent decree requires Gristedes to pay a $400,000 civil penalty. The grocer must also undertake repairs of its commercial refrigeration equipment with an estimated cost of $13,500,000, to adopt a comprehensive refrigerant compliance management plan, to convert three stores to use advanced refrigerants with low global-warming potential, and to lower its corporate leak rate to below 16%. Failure to comply will result in additional penalties. 

The Clean Air Act and the RER Rule impose requirements on the owners and operators of commercial refrigeration appliances to prevent the emission of regulated refrigerants into the atmosphere. Many refrigerants are powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change when emitted. They also deplete the ozone layer and are toxic to humans when present in the air in large quantities.

Gristedes has a century-long presence in New York City, founded in 1888 by two teenage boys. Currently, the retailer operates locations throughout Manhattan, New York state's Westchester County and the borough of Brooklyn.

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