Notice provides update of MSW landfill gas emissions guidelines

By Erin Voegele | April 01, 2020

The U.S. EPA published a notice on March 12 announcing 42 states and territories failed to submit state plans under the 2016 emissions guidelines for existing municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills. The March 12 notice represents the start of a 2-year deadline under which the EPA must promulgate a federal plan for those states.

The EPA in August 2016 finalized new source performance standards (NSPS) to reduce emissions of methane-rich landfill gas from new, modified and reconstructed 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. That stay expired on Aug. 29, 2017, but the agency failed to take any additional action. That inaction was later challenged in a lawsuit.

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 a lawsuit filed in May 2018. In April 2019, 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. Information posted to the EPA’s website indicates that order has since been stayed pending an appeal. The website posting also notes that the EPA still intends to complete the reconsideration process granted by the agency’s administrator.

Meanwhile, EPA published a notice in the Federal Register in August 2019 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 was required to promulgate the federal plan by Nov. 6, 2019. At that time the EPA estimated that 1,900 landfills would potentially be covered by the proposed federal plan.

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.

Less than a week after proposing the federal plan, the EPA published a final rule in the Federal Register that aligned state plan timing requirements with regulations finalized in the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which was finalized in July 2019. That rule specified that states must submit state plans by Aug. 29, 2019.

The notice published in the Federal Register on March 12 does not establish sanctions for states that have failed to submit state plans for set deadline for imposing sanctions. Rather, the notice indicates that compliance times in the new implementing regulations for the MSW landfills emissions guidelines also establish a deadline of 2 years for the EPA to promulgate a federal plan for states that have failed to submit a plan.

As of Feb. 29, the EPA said it had received three negative declarations and 11 state plans. The EPA reviewed and approved eight of the state plans. The approved plans include are Arizona; Pinal County, Arizona; California (partial approval, partial disapproval); Delaware; New Mexico; Albuquerque—Bernalillo County, New Mexico; Virginia, and West Virginia. The EPA is currently reviewing the other negative declarations and state plans that were submitted. Plans are currently under review for New York, Oregon, Philadelphia, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. Several other states are expected to submit state plans in the future.

The March 12 notice starts a 2-year deadline by which time the EPA must promulgate a federal plan implementing the emissions guidelines for MSW landfills. The EPA will continue to review and approve state plans during the two-year period.

A full copy of the notice is available on the Federal Register website.