EPA Unveils Plan to Reduce Dangerous Pollution from Landfills

May 17, 2021
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – May 17, 2021) The Environmental Protection Agency today announced a plan to implement final standards that will protect millions of Americans from the toxic and climate-damaging pollution emitted by municipal landfills.

The action comes only about a month after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit threw out a Trump administration rule that would have delayed those protections, in response to a lawsuit filed by EDF and others.

“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,” said EDF senior attorney Rachel Fullmer. “After years of dangerous delay by the Trump administration, it is welcome news to see this practical, common-sense national plan released.”

Landfills are the third largest source of methane pollution, which is one of the main causes of climate change. They also emit large amounts of health-harming and even cancer-causing pollution such as toxic benzene.

The Clean Air Act requires that EPA set standards to protect Americans from landfill pollution. EPA set standards in 2016 that would have required every state to have a plan in place to meet the standards by November 2017, or elect to be subject to a federal plan.

However, for years the Trump EPA went to great lengths to avoid implementing the landfill pollution standards. Then, in 2019, the Trump administration finalized a delay rule that would formally extend the deadlines for the 2016 standards. EDF and the states of California, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit opposing that delay rule.

The Biden Administration asked the court to vacate the delay rule based on a controlling D.C. Circuit opinion in a related case and send the matter back to EPA for further consideration. EDF and the states supported that request, and the court vacated the delay rule on April 5, 2021.

Today the Biden administration issued its final rule to reduce pollution from existing municipal solid waste landfills operated by any state, tribe or locale that has not already established its own approved plan. Landfills will be required to install and operate a gas collection and control system within 30 months after reaching EPA’s established threshold for pollution. EPA estimates about 1,600 landfills in 41 states, the territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community would be covered by the final federal plan. States can still submit their own plan and seek EPA approval, as long as its in advance of the federal plan implementation deadline.

The federal plan signed today will eliminate more than 21,000 metric tons per year of health-harming pollution from non-methane pollutants, starting this year. In 2016, EPA also estimated that once the emissions guidelines are fully implemented the rule will reduce methane emissions from existing landfills by 290,000 metric tons each year – the equivalent of reducing more than 24 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year over a 20-year timeframe.

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