Friday, October 24, 2008

EDF Will Sue To Upgrade Landfill Gas Emission Standards

Oct 23: Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed a notice of intent to sue U.S. EPA for its failure to update emission standards for hundreds of landfills nationwide. EDF says that landfills are the nation’s second largest source of manmade methane pollution. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and a contributor to the smog air pollution that is associated with respiratory illnesses affecting millions of Americans. EDF cites a September report from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program issued declaring measures to reduce methane emissions a “clear win-win” solution. Vickie Patton, EDF Deputy General Counsel said, “Capturing the waste gas leaking from the nation’s landfills and converting it to a local source of energy is a trifecta for the nation’s economy, environment and energy security. Converting methane pollution to a homegrown energy source is a common sense solution to address global warming and protect our kids’ health while boosting our economy.”

EDF said in a release, "EPA has failed to update the emission standards for landfills for a dozen years, violating its duty under the nation’s clean air laws to modernize the emission standards at least every eight years." According to statistics cited by EDF, methane is a potent global warming gas -- about 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2). Municipal solid waste landfills are the second largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for nearly 23 percent (125 Tg CO2 eq.) of emissions in 2006. These emissions are comparable to nearly three times the total carbon dioxide emissions released from all of the nation’s cement manufacturing. And the U.S. is responsible for about 18% of global methane emissions from landfills – equal to the landfill emissions of Canada, Mexico, China and Russia combined.

EDF indicates that a number of landfills around the country are already utilizing this energy from methane. The 16.6 million tons-in-place Lopez Canyon landfill, run by the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation, produces 7.1 megawatts of energy, enough to power 4,500 homes. And the Coffin Butte Landfill in Oregon produces enough methane to generate 5.66 MW and power 4,000 homes. While many landfills are realizing the economic benefits of capturing and utilizing the energy from methane, there are still hundreds of landfills across the nation missing this critical opportunity.

As WIMS previously reported on October 1, 2008, Waste Management, Inc. announced its plans to use its expertise as the nation's largest developer of landfill gas to energy (LFGTE) projects to partner with private and municipal landfill owners to develop the country's untapped landfill gas resources. The company said it is the first in the waste management industry to launch such a program [See WIMS 10/3/08]. Last year the company set an ambitious goal to develop up to 60 LFGTE projects at its landfills by 2012. To date the company has completed or launched the development of over a dozen projects across North America.

Waste Management reported that there are currently 445 LFGTE sites in operation across the country, but U.S. EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) has identified 535 additional sites (out of 1,700 total operating landfills) as promising candidates for LFGTE facilities. Fully developed, LMOP estimates these additional landfills could produce over 1,200 megawatts of electricity.

In its notice of intent to commence legal action, EDF calls upon U.S. EPA, "to review and revise its New Source Performance Standards [NSPS] and Emissions Guidelines for emissions of air pollution from new and existing solid waste disposal sites, and hereby provides notice pursuant to Section 304 of the Clean Air Act of its intent to sue the agency for failure to satisfy its statutory obligations to review and revise these standards and guidelines in light of current information concerning the environmental harms associated with these emissions." EPA established the current NSPS for new MSW landfills and emission guidelines for existing landfills in 1996. At that time EPA determined that a gas collection and control system which relied on the use of flares constituted BDT [Best Demonstrated Technology] for new and existing sources subject to the standard and guidelines.

EDF indicates in its notice, "Technological developments and changes in energy markets, including the price of natural gas, since 1996 have significantly altered the feasibility and economics of landfill gas-to-energy (LFGTE) projects. As EPA itself has recognized, LFGTE is demonstrably feasible even for smaller landfills." EDF notes, under the CAA, EPA must consider reductions achieved in practice when revising the NSPS for a particular source category whenever emissions reductions “beyond those required by the standards…are achieved in practice.” 42 U.S.C. § 7411(b)(1)(B). EDF says, ". . .numerous gas capture and reuse technologies are available today that produce significantly greater methane emission reductions than produced by flaring and are economical for a larger number of landfill operators. Accordingly, the NSPS no longer reflects BDT."

Access a release from EDF and link to a FOIA response and the cited CCSP report (
click here). Access the 14-page notice of intent to sue (click here). Access a 10/1/08 release from Waste Management with further details (click here). [*Solid, *Air, *Climate]