Southeastern Grocers Settles With DOJ, EPA on Refrigeration Emissions
Southeastern Grocers Inc. (SEG) has agreed to cut emissions of ozone-depleting gases from refrigeration equipment at all 576 of its stores under a proposed settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.
Under the settlement, SEG will spend about $4.2 million over the next three years to lower coolant leaks from refrigerators and other equipment, and improve company-wide compliance, as well as paying a $300,000 civil penalty.
The DOJ and EPA alleged that SEG violated the Clean Air Act by failing to promptly repair leaks of class I and class II refrigerants, ozone-depleting substances used as coolants in refrigerators, and that the retailer also failed to keep adequate servicing records of its refrigeration equipment and failed to provide information regarding its compliance record.
“Through this settlement, Southeastern Grocers will implement concrete steps to reduce leaks of ozone depleting gases from the refrigeration equipment in their stores,” noted 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.”
“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,” added Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark, of the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
As a result of the settlement, SEG will implement a corporate refrigerant compliance management system to comply with federal stratospheric ozone regulations, and to detect and repair leaks through a new bimonthly leak monitoring program. Further, the company will achieve and maintain an annual corporate-wide average leak rate of 17% through 2022, well below the grocery-store sector average of 25%. SEG must also use non-ozone-depleting advanced refrigerants at all new stores, as well as at another 15 existing, non-advanced-refrigerant stores.
EPA regulations issued under the Clean Air Act require that owners or operators of commercial refrigeration equipment that contain more than 50 pounds of ozone-depleting refrigerants repair any leaks within 30 days. An added benefit of repairing refrigerant leaks is improved energy efficiency of the system, which can save electricity.
The SEG settlement is the fourth in a series of national grocery store refrigerant cases, with cases previously filed against Safeway, Costco and Trader Joe’s.
The settlement, lodged Aug. 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.
Jacksonville, Fla.-based SEG, and its subsidiaries Bi-Lo LLC and Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., are privately held companies that own and operate regional grocery store chains Bi-Lo, Winn-Dixie Stores, Fresco y Más, and Harveys Supermarket in the southeastern United States, with 576 stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. The company is No. 13 on Progressive Grocer’s 2019 Super 50 list of the top grocers in the United States.