EPA Plans to Implement Federal Landfill Standards After Years of Trump Delays

Our Daily Planet

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a plan to implement final standards to protect residents from the adverse impacts of municipal landfills. The Trump administration previously tried to delay these protections and waive restrictions on other sources of methane emissions. The EPA's new landfill standards are just one in a series of methane reduction policies the Biden administration has implemented.

Advocates say the measures will help protect both the environment and vulnerable communities disproportionately impacted by landfills.

Why This Matters

Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and 86 times more effective at trapping atmospheric heat than CO2. In addition to leaking oil and gas wells and aquatic ecosystems, landfills are the third-largest source of methane in the US.

  • Landfills release more than just methane and are also responsible for polluting the atmosphere and marginalized communities with hazardous, health-harming, and carcinogenic chemicals like benzene.
  • By finalizing landfill standards, the EPA and the Biden administration are making good on a promise not only to monitor and mitigate emissions, but to prioritize Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan recently called on staff to "[s]trengthen enforcement in overburdened communities by resolving environmental noncompliance through remedies with tangible benefits for the community."

University of Michigan Engineering: Using autonomous drones to map methane in landfills, April 30, 2019.

Rule Dumping

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set standards for landfills. In 2016, the EPA implemented a rule requiring states to create plans to meet those standards by 2017 or be subject to a federal plan. But the Trump administration pushed for delays to the deadline, finalizing those delays in 2019. In April 2021, a court vacated the delay after the Biden administration asked the court to do so.

The new federal plan requires landfills to install and operate a gas collection and control system within 30 months of reaching EPA's established threshold for pollution.

  • The final federal plan will cover about 1,600 landfills in 41 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community.
  • At the same time, states may also submit their own plans for EPA approval ahead of the federal plan implementation deadline.

The EPA estimates that the federal plan will remove more than 21,000 metric tons of hazardous non-methane pollution and 290,000 metric tons of methane per year, the equivalent of 7.1 million metric tons of CO2. Senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Rachel Fullmer, stated:

EPA's plan will significantly reduce methane pollution from one of the largest industrial sources in America, and will reduce hazardous air pollution that puts people's health at risk nationwide and especially hurts frontline communities that are already disproportionately burdened by pollution.

EDF, along with nine states, and Washington DC, previously filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s delay rule. "After years of dangerous delay by the Trump administration, it is welcome news to see this practical, common-sense national plan released," said Fullmer.


Copyright © 2021 Our Daily Planet. Reprinted here with permission. This version may have been edited from the original article published on May 19, 2021.