Safeway to pay $600K fine for clean air violations

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Grocery retailer Safeway Inc., which operates as Randalls in Texas, will pay $600,000 and has agreed 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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice said the settlement with the Pleasanton, Calif.-based retailer is the largest ozone protection case ever reached under the Clean Air Act.

The government says Safeway violated the nation’s clear air laws by not promptly fixing leaks of HCFC-22, a potent heat-trapping gas that contributes to climate change, from its refrigerators.

The government says Safeway, the nation’s second-largest grocery retailer, also failed to keep proper maintenance records.

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In a statement Wednesday, Safeway pointed out that the settlement does not require the company to admit any liability.

“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.

Safeway also agreed to reduce its company-wide average leak rate from 25 percent to 18 percent or below by 2015.

To do so, it will invest an estimated $4.1 million in new systems, equipment upgrades and other changes meant to reduce leakage of the harmful gas.

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EPA estimates the changes could prevent the future release of more than 100,000 pounds of the ozone-depleting refrigerants.

“Today’s settlement … will also achieve important climate benefits because these ozone depleting substances are over 1,800 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Pacific Southwest regional administrator, said.

Safeway also operates Vons stores in Southern California and Nevada and Carrs in Alaska.