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Over the past few years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has forged an unusually close and positive relationship with the supermarket industry through the GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership.
GreenChill is a free, voluntary program designed to help food retailers address some of the thorny challenges associated with refrigeration, such as leaks, refrigeration retrofits and refrigerant quantity reduction. It represents a marked switch from the EPA’s traditional regulatory role, which is to enforce the agency’s 35% annual cap on the leak-rate of ozone-depleting CFC and HCFC refrigerants in supermarket refrigeration systems.
Since its official launch on Nov. 27, 2007, 36 supermarket companies operating 6,502 stores have joined GreenChill; the partnership also includes four refrigeration manufacturers and five refrigerant manufacturers. GreenChill has added a store certification program as well as a number of best-practice guides for retailers.
Lisa Jackson, who was confirmed as the new administrator on Jan. 23, plans to continue the agency’s support of GreenChill. “EPA will continue working in the spirit of the GreenChill program to find a path forward that rewards the mutual interests of our supermarkets and the environmental health of the communities they serve,” she said in a statement released by the EPA press office. “This is the beginning of a partnership that is going to help us reduce significant amounts of ozone-depleting refrigerant and other emissions, cut costs for supermarkets and consumers, and protect our health and the environment."
Of course, the 47-year-old Jackson, formerly commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, takes over the top spot at EPA as the Obama administration is trying to advance climate change legislation through Congress. Late last month, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which would establish a cap-and-trade plan to limit the emission of greenhouse gases, was approved by the House of Representatives and is now before the Senate, facing an uncertain future.
Supermarket refrigerants, including non-ozone-depleting HFC refrigerants that are replacing ozone-depleting CFC and HCFC refrigerants (notably R-22), are extremely potent greenhouse gases. Last October, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a draft discussion in which HFCs would be subject to similar regulatory controls as CFCs and HCFCs.
It remains to be seen whether a new climate change law would require the EPA to regulate HFC refrigerants. The EPA declined to comment on the potential impact of the pending bill on supermarkets. Meanwhile, the EPA is drafting a proposal to revamp the regulation of ozone-depleting refrigerants, and expects to publish it in the Federal Register by the end of the year.
Regardless of what new regulations emerge, the GreenChill program should continue to help supermarkets manage their refrigerants and keep leak rates to a minimum. “What doesn’t leak can’t harm the atmosphere,” said Keilly Witman, communication specialist for the EPA’s Stratospheric Protection Division.
— Michael Garry