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Trader Joe’s Company Clean Air Act Settlement

(Washington, DC – June 21, 2016) The national grocery store chain Trader Joe’s Company has agreed to reduce emissions of potent greenhouse gases from refrigeration equipment at 453 of its stores under a proposed settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. Under the settlement, Trader Joe’s will spend an estimated $2 million over the next three years to reduce coolant leaks from refrigerators and other equipment and improve company-wide compliance. The company will also pay a $500,000 civil penalty.

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Overview of Company

Trader Joe’s Company (Trader Joe’s) is a privately held chain of specialty grocery stores in the U.S. which is based in Monrovia, California, in greater Los Angeles. Trader Joe’s owns or operates approximately 461 stores, of which almost 40 percent are in California, with the heaviest concentration in southern California. The company also has locations in 42 other states and Washington, D.C.  

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The United States alleges that Trader Joe’s failed to properly perform leak repair and recordkeeping required under Title VI of the Clean Air Act (CAA) for the refrigeration equipment in its grocery stores. Specifically, regulations found at 40 CFR Part 82, Subpart F, Recycling and Emission Reductions require owner and operators of systems using ozone depleting substances (ODSs) to reduce the use and emission of ODSs to their “lowest achievable level” and “maximize the recapture and recycling of such substances.” In addition, the United States alleges that Trader Joe’s failed to provide a complete response to an information request, in violation of Section 114 of the CAA.

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Injunctive Relief

Under the settlement, Trader Joe’s must implement the following components of injunctive relief and mitigation: First, Trader Joe’s shall implement a refrigerant compliance management plan that provides for better management of refrigerant repairs and leaks. The plan includes several Next Generation Compliance tools such as advanced monitoring and electronic reporting. Second, Trader Joe’s must achieve a company-wide average refrigerant leak rate that is at or below 12.1 percent in calendar years 2017, 2018, and 2019. Third, at all new stores and major remodels, Trader Joe’s must use only refrigerant that is non-ozone depleting and has a low global warming potential (GWP). Finally, at fifteen new stores or major remodels, Trader Joe’s will conduct a pilot research project using advanced, ultra-low-GWP refrigerant such as carbon dioxide (CO2).

This settlement helps implement the call in the President’s Climate Action Plan, dated June 2013, to curb emissions of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant as an important step for reducing carbon pollution. This is the first EPA settlement with requirements to repair leaks of HFCs in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly one-quarter of Trader Joe’s refrigerant appliances use HFC refrigerants. The settlement obligations cover equipment using HFC refrigerants that are non-ozone-depleting but have a GWP in the 3,900 to 4,700 range, which means that the specific refrigerants are 3,900 to 4,700 times more potent as GHGs than carbon dioxide over a 100-year time horizon. 

Trader Joe’s estimates the cost to implement the injunctive relief and mitigation required by this settlement to be $2 million.

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Pollutant Impacts

EPA estimates that this settlement will reduce GHG emissions by approximately 31,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent over three years. This is equivalent to the GHG emissions from over 6,500 passenger vehicles driven in one year, the CO2 from approximately 33.2 million tons of coal burned, or the carbon sequestered by over 25,000 acres of forest. 

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Health Effects and Environmental Benefits

The human and environmental harm associated with excess emissions of ODSs as a result of Trader Joe’s violations is difficult to quantify.  

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Civil Penalty

Trader Joe’s will pay a civil penalty of $500,000 to resolve the alleged claims.  

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.  Information on submitting comments is available at the Department of Justice website.

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For more information, contacts:

Brian Riedel
Assistant Regional Counsel
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9
75 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 972-3924

Terri Dykes
Air Enforcement Division
Office of Civil Enforcement
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20640
(202) 564-9883

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