Trader Joe's, the popular California-based supermarket chain, agreed in court to spend about $2 million to reduce refrigerator coolant leaks that deplete the ozone layer and contribute to global warming.
Trader Joe's also agreed to pay a $500,000 civil penalty under a consent decree with the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency that was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for Northern California.
Officials said stopping the coolant leaks will eliminate as much greenhouse gases as about 6,500 cars produce each year.
John Cruden, the government's top environmental lawyer, said in an interview that the consent decree sends a message to other large supermarkets to inspect their refrigeration equipment and reduce coolant emissions.
"This settlement will assist our efforts to control these two major environmental problems," Cruden said, referring to protecting the ozone layer and stemming the growth of greenhouse gases.
It is the third settlement federal authorities have reached with a national supermarket chain in recent years. Safeway and Costco previously agreed to reduce their leaks of coolants.
In court papers, prosecutors alleged that Trader Joe's, which is based in Monrovia and has 461 stores in 43 states, violated the Clean Air Act by failing to repair leaks of R-22, a hydrofluorocarbon and coolant.
The supermarket chain also failed to keep adequate service records for its equipment, the government alleged.
"What we saw here was bad management," Cruden said. "They are going to have to do better record keeping, a lot better than what they had been doing, and a system to do it nationally."
The EPA discovered the leaks after records showed Trader Joe's was buying far more refrigerant than it should have.
As part of the settlement, Trader Joe's will upgrade its equipment and switch to less-harmful coolants.
In a statement, Alison Mochizuki, a spokeswoman for Trader Joe's said the company "looks forward to working with the EPA in its mission to reduce air pollution and protect the ozone layer, and, with this agreement, has committed to reducing its emissions to a rate that matches the best of the industry."
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11:29 a.m.: This story was updated with additional details and comment from Trader Joe's