It was announced last Friday that an agreement had been made between the Federal Government’s EPA/Justice Department and the company Southeastern Grocers (SEG). Southeastern Grocers is a large grocery store chain that operates nearly six-hundred stores across the southern United States. They operate under various supermarket chains including BI-Lo, Winn-Dixie, Fresco y Mas, and Harveys Supermarket. They have over forty-five thousand employees and over eight billion in revenue.
The court case emerged from the Environmental Protection Agency accusing SEG of not following the Clean Air Act. Specifically, on the refrigerators within their stores. These refrigerated units use HCFC refrigerants and were not being actively monitored for leaks. Along with that, there was not proper record keeping on what maintenance had actually been done.
The agreement states that SEG will work to solve their issues over the next three years. Part of that is investing four point two million dollars to reduce SEG’s dependency on Ozone depleting systems. SEG will also pay a three-hundred thousand dollar fine. But wait, there’s more! It’s not just fines and investment that SEG will have to go through. Along with all of that they will also have to put in place a corporate policy when it comes to refrigerant management. This will include a bi-monthly leak monitoring program to ensure leaks no longer go undetected and if they do then they get repaired in a timely manner.
Most grocery stores/supermarkets have an average leak rate of twenty-five percent. SEG will now be expected to maintain a twenty-one percent leak rate in the first year, a nineteen percent in the second, and a seventeen percent by the third year (2022). They also are mandated to use non-Ozone depleting advanced refrigerants in all of their new stores as well as in fifteen existing stores. (These would be any of the SNAP approved refrigerants for commercial refrigeration.) If any of these requirements are not met over the next few years then SEG could face additional, possibly harsher, fines and penalties.
The Clean Air Act states that owners of commercial refrigeration equipment that contain fifty pounds or more of refrigerant must regularly be checked for leaks and if a leak is occurring to have that leak repaired within thirty days of detection. It should be noted that there is a threshold here, not EVERY leak has to be repaired right away. A determination needs to be made as to how large the leak actually is. I won’t get into all of the details in this article, but the EPA states that for commercial refrigeration the leak cannot exceed a rate of twenty percent. (This used to be thirty-five percent, but was changed at the beginning of this year.)
While this fine and mandated investment may seem like a lot it is just a blimp in the radar for a company like Southeastern. They bring in billions a year, this won’t have much impact on them. Don’t let that fool you though folks, the EPA doesn’t discriminate when it comes to company size. If the Clean Air Act isn’t being followed then your business could be at risk as well. It’s just that SEG was a much bigger target for an investigation. This initial agreement is subject to a thirty day public comment period and then final approval from the court.
If you walk away with one thing from this article know that proper record keeping is essential. Even if you have regularly scheduled maintenance if you don’t have the records showing so it is all for not. Be sure to cross your Ts and dot your Is in these matters to prevent any future risk of EPA investigations. Use these companies that are going through the EPA headaches as warnings to others out there.