Environmental Defense Fund Takes Legal Action to Address Landfill Methane Emissions

October 23, 2008



Vickie Patton – (720) 837-6239 or vpatton@edf.org

Kevin Lynch – (303) 447-7200 or klynch@edf.org
Sean Crowley - 202-550-6524 or scrowley@edf.org  


(Washington, DC – October 23, 2008)  Today, Environmental Defense Fund filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to update emission standards for hundreds of landfills nationwide.  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.  In September, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program issued a landmark report declaring measures to reduce methane emissions a “clear win-win” solution.  


“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,” said Vickie Patton, Environmental Defense Fund Deputy General Counsel.  “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.” 


The recent U.S. Climate Change Science Program report determined that measures to reduce methane emissions are:  a “clear win-win solution for climate (less warming) and air quality (less pollution).”  See Climate Projections Based on Emissions Scenarios for Long-Lived and Short-Lived Radiatively Active Gases and Aerosols, ps. 64-65, (Sept. 2008), at http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap3-2/final-report/. 


Capturing landfill emissions also creates an economic boon to local communities because cost-effective technology provides access to an untapped energy source.


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.  


Methane contributes to harmful ozone and is a potent greenhouse gas

Methane emissions contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone.  Exposure to ground-level ozone has been linked to serious health effects including premature mortality, decreased lung function, respiratory illness, and asthma.  Methane is also a potent global warming gas – about 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2).  Methane’s relatively short atmospheric lifetime (10 years), coupled with its potency as a greenhouse gas, makes reducing methane emissions from landfills one of the best ways to mitigate global warming over the near-term..


Landfills are top emitters of methane gas

Methane is emitted from a variety of human and natural sources.  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.


Landfills can become clean energy sources

Landfill gas is created as solid waste decomposes in a landfill.  This gas consists of about 50 percent methane, about 50 percent CO2, and a small amount of non-methane organic compounds.  Because methane is a principal component of natural gas, methane emissions from landfills present a key opportunity to capture and use a significant home-grow energy source.


Landfill gas is extracted from landfills using a series of wells and a vacuum system.  This system directs the collected gas to a central point where it can be processed and treated.  From this point, the gas can be used to generate electricity, replace fossil fuels in industrial and manufacturing operations, fuel greenhouse operations, or be upgraded to pipeline quality gas.


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.


EDF’s Notice of Intent to Sue: http://edf.org/documents/8713_NOILandfillNSPSOct2008.pdf

Environmental Protection Agency’s response to EDF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request: http://edf.org/documents/8712_EPAFOIAResponseAug2008.pdf



About Environmental Defense Fund

Environmental Defense Fund is at the forefront of an innovation revolution, developing new solutions that protect the natural world while growing the economy. Founded in 1967 and representing more than 500,000 members, the group creates powerful economic incentives by working with market leaders and relying on rigorous science. For more information, visit edf.org.