Proposed Landfill Methane Rules to be Revised by the EPA

Organic waste contributes to landfill methane emissionse ems

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has gone back to the drawing board to reconsider proposed methane emission rules for landfills following a request by the waste sector, who claim that they are simply not feasible to implement.

In 2016 the EPA updated standards for new or reconstructed MSW landfills as well as guidelines for existing landfills, which receive non-hazardous waste from multiple sources. Under the new rules, landfills are required to install and operate landfill gas collection and control systems and to monitor methane emissions, which the EPA estimates would cost landfill operators in excess of $100 million annually to install and operate.

Organic material, such as food waste and garden refuse, produce emissions as they break down naturally on landfills.  Landfill operators are already required to capture methane when emissions are higher than the stipulated threshold. However, these new rules  — which are now being reviewed — would reduce that threshold limit, requiring landfill operators to capture methane when emissions are even lower. Waste management companies are concerned that this would mean they would have to install expensive new landfill gas control systems to monitor and control emissions in order to comply with the new rules.

Yet, the waste industry also promotes the capture of methane from landfills, transforming it into a renewable source of energy that can be used to power the waste collection trucks servicing the landfill, as well as other vehicles, or it can be used to supply factories and homes with power.

Considering that the waste sector supports and promotes the capture of methane from landfills to be recycled into energy, why are they opposing these rules?

According to Kerry Kelly from Waste Management, Inc., the way the rules are currently written is simply not feasible.

“It’s never been our desire to repeal the rules,” she told Houston Public Media. “We want the rules on the books, we want them to work.”

It’s not just the waste management industry that are opposing the rules; some environmental organizations are also not happy, but their reasons differ from those of the waste industry. The environmental groups are concerned that the rules ultimately won’t help reduce methane emissions, and that the government should rather put more effort into keeping organic material out of landfills by promoting composting of organic waste.

On the 23rd May the EPA announced a 90-day stay for the above emission standards for MSW landfills while they reconsider some aspects of the new emission rules for existing landfills.

According to a statement released by the EPA, it will continue to review emission standards and guidelines to ensure they facilitate a growing economy whilst protecting the environment in alignment with the Energy Independence Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump.

“EPA is continuing to ensure that the public has the opportunity to comment on agency actions,” said Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Reconsidering portions of the landfill rules will give stakeholders the opportunity to review these requirements, assess economic impacts and provide feedback to the agency through the reconsideration process.”

The EPA plans to draft a new rule on the issue, and to make it available for public comment. More information on the stay and reconsideration of the rule can be found here.


Image Credit: Sustainable Sanitation Alliance via Flickr


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