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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Owner of grocery chain with five Marion County locations settles with Feds over clean air violations

The owner of a grocery store chain with five locations in Marion County has agreed to spend $4.2 million to reduce emissions of ozone-depleting gases from refrigeration equipment.

Southeastern Grocers Inc. (SEG) and its subsidiaries reached the settlement with the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act. The company, which also will pay a $300,000 civil penalty, will work to solve the issue over the next three years.

SEG was alleged to have 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. The company also was accused of failing to keep adequate servicing records of its refrigeration equipment and failed to provide information about its compliance record.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark, of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Susan Bodine, the EPA’s assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, agreed.

“Through this settlement, Southeastern Grocers will implement concrete steps to reduce leaks of ozone depleting gases from the refrigeration equipment in their stores,” she said. “These steps will not only help to prevent damage to the environment but should also help save energy.”

SEG is required to implement a corporate refrigerant compliance management system to comply with federal stratospheric ozone regulations and to detect and repair leaks through a new bi-monthly leak monitoring program.

In addition, SEG will achieve and maintain an annual corporate-wide average leak rate of 17.0 percent through 2022, well below the grocery store sector average of 25 percent. The company also must use non-ozone depleting advanced refrigerants at all new stores, and an additional 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 over 50 pounds of ozone-depleting refrigerants repair any leaks within 30 days. Damage to the ozone layer results in dangerous amounts of cancer-causing ultraviolet solar radiation, increasing skin cancers and cataracts. An added benefit of repairing refrigerant leaks is improved energy efficiency of the system, which can save electricity.

The settlement is the fourth in a series of national grocery store refrigerant cases, including those previously filed against Safeway Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Trader Joe’s Co.
Southeastern Grocers Inc., and its subsidiaries BI-LO LLC and Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., are headquartered in Jacksonville. They are privately held companies that also own and operate regional grocery store chains BI-LO, Fresco y Más and Harveys Supermarket in the Southeastern United States. All told, the company has 576 stores in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina, with a projected revenue of $8.45 billion in the 2019 fiscal year.

Winn-Dixie has five stores in Marion County in Ocala, Belleview, Dunnellon and Silver Springs. The company also has three locations in The Villages spread across the mega-retirement community.

The settlement was lodged Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. It soon will be available for viewing by clicking HERE.