Safeway pays for clean-air violations

The grocer took its time fixing refrigerant leaks. Its procrastination will cost it $4.7 million in fines and repairs.

By Jason Notte Sep 5, 2013 2:12PM
Cars sit parked outside of a Safeway Inc. grocery store
© Ben Nelms/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesSo you're all good with just letting faulty refrigerators spew ozone-depleting refrigerants into the air until you get around to fixing them at your leisure? That's OK, just pay us $600,000 and spend $4 million on new equipment and we'll call it even.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice hit large grocery chain Safeway (SWY) with a $600,000 fine and forced it to agree to a nationwide reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from refrigeration equipment at its 659 U.S. stores under terms of a settlement released Wednesday. The federal agencies say the settlement with the retailer is the largest ozone protection case ever reached under the Clean Air Act.

Safeway was targeted by the government for violating clean air laws by not promptly fixing leaks of HCFC-22, a hydrochlorofluorocarbon used in refrigerators that eats away at ozone and contributes to climate change. Safeway didn't have much of a defense, as the government also noted that it failed to keep maintenance records for the faulty refrigerators in question.

Safeway also agreed to reduce its average leak rate from 25% to 18% or less by 2015. That will require the company to invest an estimated $4.1 million in new systems, equipment upgrades and other changes that should prevent the future release of more than 100,000 pounds of the offending refrigerants.

The important part, at least in Safeway's view, is that it doesn't have to admit any responsibility in the matter. Free from the nasty little threat of legal action, the company issued a statement Wednesday saying it shouldn't be scolded for past laziness when it's been so active in making repairs lately. See, they told you they'd get around to it. . . $4.7 million later.

"The allegations in the complaint are dated from 2004 to 2007 and do not reflect a number of improvements Safeway has implemented since that time," the company statement said.

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Sep 5, 2013 3:16PM
Price increase for the consumer on the way ? You betcha !
Sep 5, 2013 3:27PM
And the feds net themselves Another $600, 000 dollars. Well they need it with that asteroid catcher in the works.
Sep 5, 2013 5:16PM
Could this be the end of the Save4 U program???
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