Environmental Protection

EDF Suit Raps EPA's Progress on Landfill Emissions

The Environmental Defense Fund on Oct. 23 filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 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 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..

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 United States is responsible for about 18 percent of global methane emissions from landfills – equal to the landfill emissions of Canada, Mexico, China and Russia combined.

Several landfills around the country already use methane-derived energy. 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. The Coffin Butte Landfill in Oregon produces enough methane to generate 5.66 MW and power 4,000 homes.

For information on EDF's Notice of Intent to Sue, visit http://edf.org/documents/8713_NOILandfillNSPSOct2008.pdf.

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