Environment & Science

Trader Joe's allegedly violates Clean Air Act, settles with EPA

File: Shoppers lineup as they wait for the grand opening of a Trader Joe's on Oct. 18, 2013 in Pinecrest, Florida.
File: Shoppers lineup as they wait for the grand opening of a Trader Joe's on Oct. 18, 2013 in Pinecrest, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Trader Joe’s has agreed to adopt practices to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from refrigeration equipment at more than 450 of its locations. It's thanks to a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.

According to a statement released by the Department of Justice, Trader Joe’s allegedly violated the act by failing to promptly repair leaks of a an ozone-depleting substance used as a coolant in refrigerators. That substance has 1,800 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide. The company also failed to adequately document service records of cooling equipment.  

The company will have to pay a $500,000 fine and spend an estimated $2 million over the next three years to reduce coolant leaks from refrigerators while improving recordkeeping of those numbers.

Forty percent of the company’s locations are in Southern California, EPA Regional Administrator Alexis Strauss told KPCC, and that’s where this case originated after the agency discovered the company was having problems with recordkeeping. Now, she said, these Trader Joe’s locations will implement a corporate refrigerant compliance management system to centralize and computerize how they keep track of leaks and what kind of refrigerators they use.

In addition, the DOJ statement said they will be required to use non-ozone-depleting coolants at any new store, and at at least 15 stores must use advanced cooling substances such as carbon dioxide.

The same statement said that the total estimated greenhouse gas emissions reductions that would result from this settlement are equal to the amount from over 6,500 passenger vehicles driven in one year, or the CO2 emissions from 33 million pounds of coal burned.

Similar cases with Safeway and Costco back in 2013 led to similar results, but Strauss said this is an issue that's still common in the industry.

“We’re hoping it has much broader reach than just the company itself,” she said.  

She said she hopes that these company-wide upgrades will serve as an example for these types of businesses, which she said are lacking in modern technology when it comes to refrigerants.

“California is the model for the nation in being energy-efficient, and this is a really great place to be going,” she said.