EPA proposes federal plan under 2016 landfill gas regulations

By Erin Voegele | August 28, 2019

The U.S. EPA took two actions in late August relating to the timing and implementation of 2016 emission guidelines for existing municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills. One is a final rule to align state plan timing requirements with regulations established by the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which was finalized in July. The other is a proposed federal plan issued in response to a recent court order, which requires EPA to finalize a federal plan by Nov. 6. 

On Aug. 29, 2016, the EPA finalized new source performance standards (NSPS) to reduce emissions of methane-rich landfill gas from new, modified and reconstructed municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills. In a separate action, the agency also issued revised guidelines for reducing emissions from existing MSW landfills. The new regulations updated standards and guidelines put into place in 1996.

Both rules consider a well-designed and well-operated landfill gas collection-and-control system as the best system of emission reduction for controlling landfill gas. In addition, both actions require affected landfills to install and operate a gas collection control system within 30 months after landfill gas emissions reach 34 metric tons of NMOC or more per year. The previous threshold was 50 metric tons.

The rules state landfill owners and operators may control gas through combustion for energy generation, or by using a treatment system that processes gas for sale or beneficial use. Gas can also be flared. On May 23, 2017, the EPA announced a 90-day administrative stay of the two rules to allow the agency to reconsider certain aspects of these regulations. Specifically, the agency said it would reconsider six topics, including tier four surface emission monitoring, annual liquids reporting, corrective action timeline procedures, overlapping applicability with other rules, the definition of cover penetration and design plan approval. That stay expired on Aug. 29, 2017.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the California Air Resources Board led a coalition of eight attorneys general and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in the lawsuit challenging EPA’s inaction. The lawsuit was filed in May 2018. 

In April, the court ruled that given the role landfill emissions play in exacerbating climate change, the EPA’s failure to implement these regulations is unacceptable and a violation of the Clean Air Act. Under the ruling, the EPA is required to respond to all state plans already submitted within four months and to develop a federal plan within six months.

The EPA published a notice in the Federal Register Aug. 22 proposing a federal plan regarding the regulations that would apply to MSW landfills in any state, tribe or locale that has failed to submit a plan or which a plan has not yet been approved. Upon approval of a state plan, the federal plan will no longer apply to MSW landfills in that state. Under court order, the EPA said it is required to promulgate the federal plan by Nov. 6.

The proposed federal plan contains the same elements as required for a state plan, including identification of legal authority and mechanisms for implementation; inventory of designated facilities; emissions inventory; emissions limits; compliance schedules; a process for EPA or state review of design plans for site-specific gas collection and control systems; testing, monitoring, reporting and record keeping requirements; public hearing requirements; and progress reporting requirements.

According to the EPA, approximately 1,900 landfills would potentially be covered by the proposed federal plan. A public comment period on the proposed federal plan is open through Oct. 7.  Comments can be submitted online at www.regulations.gov under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2019-0338. A public hearing is scheduled to be held Sept. 6 in North Carolina.

Less than a week later, on Aug. 26, the EPA published a final rule in the Federal Register that aligns state plan timing requirements with regulations finalized in the ACE rule. The rule indicates state must submit state plans by Aug. 29, 2019. The final rule becomes effective Sept. 6.

Additional information is available on the EPA website