EPA Proposes Changes in Emissions Guidelines for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills to Address Methane Concerns Raised by Obama’s Climate Action Plan

Mon Oct 12th, On Environmental Law, by

The Obama administration recently released its Climate Action Plan’s methane reduction strategy that targets releases from landfills and oil and gas production. According to the White House, methane pollution is projected to increase to equal over 620 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution in 2030. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential more than 25 times that of carbon dioxide.

As part of that plan, EPA issued proposals on August 14, 2015 to reduce methane emissions from municipal and solid waste landfills. According to EPA, municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the US. Municipal solid waste landfills receive non-hazardous wastes, which decompose and produce methane. An estimated 989 open and closed landfills would be subject to the proposed Emission Guidelines.

EPA issued two proposals to reduce emissions of methane from municipal solid waste landfills to lower emissions by a third. Combined, the proposed rules are expected to reduce methane emissions by an estimated 487,000 tons a year beginning in 2025, equivalent to reducing 12.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

EPA’s proposal would update the Emission Guidelines and Compliance Times for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills (50 CFR Part 60, subpart Cc), pursuant to EPA’s review of the Emission Guidelines under Clean Air Act section 111. EPA determined that there have been advances in technology and operating practices that justified a new rule. In addition, there was potential for achieving additional reductions in emissions of landfill gases, consistent with the mandate by the Climate Action Plan also known as Obama’s Methane Strategy.

The proposed updates would apply to landfills that began construction, reconstruction or modification on or before July 17, 2014, and accepted waste after November 8, 1987.

Certain current requirements will continue to apply under the new guidelines, including:

  • Existing landfills would be subject to the guidelines if they have a design capacity of 2.5 million metric tons and 2.5 million cubic meters of waste.
  • Landfill owners/operators may control gas by putting it to beneficial use by combusting it in an enclosed combustion device (such as a boiler, engine or turbine) for energy generation, by using a treatment system that processes the collected gas for sale, or by flaring it.
  • Landfills subject to the proposed guidelines would have 30 months after reaching the emissions threshold to install and begin operating a gas collection and control system.
  • Landfill owners/operators with a gas collection and control system would be required to expand that system into new areas of the landfill within five years for active areas.

EPA is also proposing an alternative, site-specific method for determining when a landfill must install and operate a gas collection and control system based on surface emissions monitoring. A landfill would not be required to collect and control landfill gas if it can demonstrate that emissions of methane are below 500 parts per million for four consecutive quarters.

States would have nine months to prepare or update state plans to implement the proposed guidelines, with plans due after the final emission guidelines are issued.

EPA is proposing to eliminate the wellhead operating limits for oxygen, nitrogen and temperature; however, the limits for negative pressure would remain in place. Landfills would continue to monitor and record temperature and oxygen/nitrogen levels at wellheads to help them determine whether adjustments to their gas collection and control systems are necessary.

EPA is also proposing a number of clarifications, including clarifying that the use of treated landfill gas is not limited to use as a fuel for stationary engines but also may be used for other beneficial purposes.

EPA is also proposing to update several definitions in the Emission Guidelines. In addition, while the EPA is not proposing to mandate organics diversion we are proposing two specific compliance flexibilities in the Emission Guidelines to encourage wider adoption of organics diversion and GCCS Best Management Practices (BMPs) for emission reductions at landfills. These compliance flexibilities are discussed in sections VI.B (wellhead monitoring) and VII.A (Tier 4 emission threshold determination) of this preamble.

The proposed rules will be subject to public comment for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Comments may be submitted and identified by Docket ID No.EPA-HQ-OAR-2014-0451, to the Federal Rulemaking Portal:


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