Biden administration reviews ACE rule, delayed landfill gas regs

By Erin Voegele | January 25, 2021

The U.S. EPA’s long-stalled implementation of landfill emissions regulations, the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, and the SAFE Vehicles Rule are three of the many federal regulations that are set to be reviewed by the Biden administration, according to an executive order issued Jan. 20.

“Our Nation has an abiding commitment to empower our workers and communities; promote and protect our public health and the environment; and conserve our national treasures and monuments, places that secure our national memory,” Biden wrote in the executive order. “Where the Federal Government has failed to meet that commitment in the past, it must advance environmental justice.  In carrying out this charge, the Federal Government must be guided by the best science and be protected by processes that ensure the integrity of Federal decision-making.  It is, therefore, the policy of my Administration to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides; to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change; to restore and expand our national treasures and monuments; and to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals.”

The order directs all executive departments and agencies to immediately review, and as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, take action to address the promulgation of federal regulations and other actions taken during the Trump administration that conflict the national objectives outlined in the executive order, and to immediately commence work to confront the climate crisis.

A fact sheet issued with the executive order includes a non-exclusive list of agency actions that are to be reviewed. The SAFE Vehicles Rule, repeal of the Clean Power Plan, and emissions guidelines for municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are among the regulations named in that fact sheet.

The U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration first proposed the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficiency (SAFE) vehicles rule in August 2018 and issued a final rule on March 31, 2020. The rulemaking replaced CAFE and greenhouse gas (GHG) standards put in place by the Obama administration. The rule did not include new incentives for flex fuel vehicles (FFVs). Members of the ethanol industry criticized the rulemaking for failing to provide a pathway for high-octane, low-carbon fuels.

The U.S. EPA released its final rule for its Affordable Clean Energy program in June 2019. The ACE program replaces the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and establishes emissions guidelines for states to use when developing plans to limit carbon dioxide at coal-fired power plants. While biomass co-firing was discussed as a potential compliance option in the proposed rule, the final rule specifies that biomass co-firing cannot be used to comply with the ACE program.

The emissions guidelines for MSW landfills were finalized in 2016, but were never properly implemented by the Trump administration.  The EPA in August 2016 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.

The EPA announced a 90-day administrative stay of the two rules in May 2017 and said it would reconsider several components of the rulemaking. The agency was sued in May 2018 over its failure to implement the regulations. A court ruling handed down in April 2019 ordered the agency take action on state plans that had been submitted and develop a federal plan. The EPA in August 2019 issued a final rule that retroactively delayed long-passed deadlines for several more years. That rule has also been subject to legal challenges.