DALLAS -- An executive with the Environmental Protection Agency criticized the food retail industry's level of environmental responsibility at Food Marketing Institute's recent Energy and Technical Services Conference, which took place at the Adolphus Hotel here. Julius Banks, EPA's national recycling and emissions reduction program manager, also announced plans for a voluntary initiative aimed at bringing the grocery industry to a level of environmental responsibility beyond the bare minimum required for regulatory compliance. The program is currently in the works between EPA and FMI, both based in Washington. FMI didn't respond to a request for comment on the initiative or Banks' assertions.
"The EPA will not be part of the initiative if all it does is get people to the current state of compliance with regulations that are a decade old," stressed Banks at the conference, held Sept. 13 to 15. "It aims to get to a point beyond compliance, outside the box of regulations. We're looking for an agreement that works for the environment and the industry."
Although EPA would not agree to an initiative that would restrict its ability to regulate the industry, Banks said greater environmental responsibility by the industry might allow the agency to loosen its reins on new regulations.
"Do we need regulations to contain a problem, or can the industry solve it itself?" he asked. "I doubt that we'd have regulations of CFCs as stringent as they are today if the industry had done a better job [of regulating itself]."
Through its initiative with FMI, EPA hopes to gain insight into retailers' energy management strategies. "We can't quite understand why companies are undergoing new construction with [the HCFC refrigerant] R-22, when implementation of HFC is the smart thing to do," said Banks.
He cited the EPA-enforced phaseout of ozone-depleting HCFCs, including R-22. The plan prohibits the production or importing of R-22 for new equipment as of 2010, and for use of any kind by 2020. A more environment-friendly alternative to an HCFC refrigerant is an HFC refrigerant like R-404a.
Banks also expressed concern about food retailers' inability to calculate their "refrigerant charge," which is the amount of refrigerant used in their systems. Such a calculation is necessary to determine compliance with refrigerant leak rate and repair regulations. "All major grocers have engineers, so can someone tell me, how is it possible that your engineers cannot provide [refrigerant charge] information?" queried Banks, who paused for an answer while the audience remained silent. "If you don't know how to calculate your refrigerant charge, how are you going to become compliant [with leak rate and repair rules]?"
Banks acknowledged that consultants might be partly to blame. "Some consultants are telling your organization things that are way off," he said. "Be careful people, because you have to know what you're doing. If you have a question, you can always call the EPA. Make sure that your consultants are doing more for you than you can do for yourself."
Greater responsibility begins with prioritizing environmental needs, stated Banks. He related that a supermarket contacted him to inquire about grants offered for regulatory compliance purposes. "The EPA doesn't provide funding for this," he stressed. "This is a business decision that your company needs to look into."
EPA plans to do its part to simplify regulatory requirements by "producing information in plain English that can be summarized on one page of our Web site," said Banks.