Gristedes
Gristedes store, Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York City; image by Ajay Suresh, New York, N.Y., via Wikimedia Commons

New York Grocer Gristedes to Pay $400K Fine and Make Repairs for F-Gas Leaks

In a federal consent decree, the 19-store chain also agreed to convert three locations to systems using ‘advanced refrigerants with low global warming potential.’

Gristedes Supermarkets, a chain of 19 stores in New York City, and the U.S. government have entered into a consent decree requiring the retailer to pay a $400,000 (€369,520) civil penalty and to undertake millions of dollars of repairs for failure to comply with regulations designed to limit the emissions of f-gas refrigerants from appliances at its stores, according to a statement on July 1 from Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The consent decree requires Gristedes, a division of the Red Apple Group, to “undertake repairs of its commercial refrigeration equipment with an estimated cost of $13,500,000 [€12,471,000], adopt a comprehensive refrigerant compliance management plan, convert three stores to utilize advanced refrigerants with low global warming potential, and to lower its corporate leak-rate below 16%.”

According to its website, Gristedes operates 18 stores in Manhattan, where it started its grocery business in 1888, and one in Brooklyn.

The consent decree settled a civil lawsuit filed by the U.S. against Gristedes alleging violations of the U.S. Clean Air Act and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Recycling and Emissions Reduction RER Rule stemming from the release of more than 42,000lbs (19,051kg) of HCFCs and HFCs at its stores.

“Between 2019 and 2021, Gristedes systematically violated EPA refrigerant regulations, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions at a rate far higher than others in the industry,” said Williams. “To give a sense of scale, Gristedes’ emissions had a global warming effect equal to driving a car 140 million miles [225 million kilometers]. As a result of our lawsuit, Gristedes is now required to reduce its emissions by over 70% from their 2020 levels to offset at least some of the damage it has caused, and it will face significant additional penalties under the consent decree if it fails to do so.”

The U.S. office of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and 350NYC.org investigated seven Gristedes supermarkets in September 2022 using a portable leak detector and found all of the stores were leaking f-gases in violation of the Clean Air Act and the RER Rule, the EIA reported.

“Supermarkets have no excuse to continue using and leaking potent climate pollutants,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Campaign Director, EIA US. “Our investigations showed how Gristedes was failing to control these preventable emissions, violating laws and damaging our planet. This legal action is a welcome warning to companies that there are serious consequences to climate inaction.”

Conduct acknowledged

In the consent decree, Gristedes accepts responsibility for the following conduct between 2019 and 2021:

  • Failing to adopt or implement refrigerant management practices that were consistent with the RER Rule.
  • Failing to calculate the leak rates for appliances upon addition of refrigerants to those appliances and to maintain associated records of the same.
  • Failing to repair appliances that had leak rates above applicable thresholds under the RER Rule and to maintain records of the same.
  • Failing to perform initial and follow-up verification tests to ensure that the repairs were successful, perform subsequent leak inspections at intervals required by the RER Rule and maintain records of the same.
  • Failing to implement retrofit or retirement plans for the appliances that had uncontrolled leaks or to maintain records of the same.
  • Failing to submit reports to EPA related to chronically leaking appliances.
  • Maintaining corporate-wide leak rates of 40%, 59% and 46% in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively, resulting in the emission of 42,094lbs (19,094kg) of refrigerants in total.

To provide public notice and afford members of the public the opportunity to comment on the consent decree, it will be lodged with the District Court for a period of at least 30 days before it is submitted for the court’s approval.

“This action emphasizes the importance of monitoring and continuous enforcement of the EPA regulations on refrigerant emissions,” said Margaret Perkins from 350NYC.org.

“Supermarkets have no excuse to continue using and leaking potent climate pollutants.”

Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Campaign Director, EIA US

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