Costco to Cut Harmful Refrigerant Emissions

     SAN FRANCISCO - The United States reached a deal Wednesday regarding leaking refrigeration equipment at more than half of Costco's stores nationwide.
     The settlement, filed simultaneously with the federal complaint, slams Costco with $335,000 in penalties for federal Clean Air Act violations.
     It also requires Costco to fix refrigerant leaks and make other improvements at 274 of its stores. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates will cost about $2 million over the next three years, according to a statement from the Justice Department.
     The United States said "Costco violated the Clean Air Act by failing to promptly repair refrigeration equipment leaks of the refrigerant R-22, a powerful ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbon, between 2004 and 2007."
     "Costco also failed to keep adequate records of the servicing of its refrigeration equipment to prevent harmful leaks," according to the statement by the Justice Department. "Destroying the ozone layer results in dangerous amounts of cancer-causing ultraviolet solar radiation striking the earth, increasing skin cancers and cataracts. R-22 is also a potent greenhouse gas with 1,800 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide or CO2.
     Commercial refrigeration equipment at 30 of Costco stores must be retrofitted or replaced to reduce ozone-depleting and greenhouse gas emissions, according to the settlement.
     A refrigerant-management system will also help the discount superstore "prevent and repair coolant leaks and reduce its corporate-wide average leak rate at least 20 percent by 2017," the Justice Department added.
     "In addition, Costco will install and operate environmentally friendly glycol refrigeration systems and centrally monitored refrigerant leak detection systems at all new stores."
     The Clean Air Act requires owners or operators of commercial refrigeration equipment that use over 50 pounds of ozone-depleting refrigerants and have an annual leak rate over 35 percent to repair all leaks within 30 days, the Justice Department noted.
     Headquartered in Issaquah, Wash., Costco Wholesale Corp. is a $105.2 billion business that operates 466 stores in the United States, and it has more stores across the globe in 2013.
     Of the 274 Costco stores with regulated commercial refrigeration equipment that Wednesday's settlement covers, 67 are in California. Another 14 stores are in Arizona, five in Nevada and four in Hawaii.
     The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.
     "Cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions is a national priority for EPA, and this settlement will lead to significant reductions of an ozone-depleting gas that is 1,700 times more potent than carbon dioxide," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Fixing leaks of refrigerants, improving compliance and reducing emissions will make a real difference in protecting us from the dangers of ozone depletion, while reducing the impact on climate change."