Opening yet another front in the effort to force EPA to take more aggressive action to combat global warming, the Environmental Defense Fund recently announced its intent to sue EPA for its failure to update emissions standards with respect to emissions of methane from landfills. As EDF has alleged, Section 111 of the Clean Air Act requires that EPA update its New Source Performance Standards every eight years. EPA last updated the landfill NSPS in 1996.
Of course, at the time EPA last promulgated landfill NSPS, climate change was not part of the equation. Now, it is. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 21 times more potent than CO2. Although landfills have increasingly made efforts to capture methane for waste-to-energy projects, these efforts are apparently not fast enough or comprehensive enough for EDF.
Specifically, in its 1996 promulgation, EPA determined that energy recovery from landfill methane was not available. EDF, in its Notice, cites sources indicating that energy recovery is now feasible, even at smaller landfills.
The likelihood that EPA will revisit this issue in the limited time remaining to the current administration seems vanishingly small. However, there is no doubt that this issue will be revisited in the next administration. Given methane’s potency as a greenhouse gas, it seems likely that regulations will target this area, whether as part of a revision to NSPS or as part of a broader strategy aimed directly at climate change. Once cap and trade programs expand beyond the power generation sector, as seems likely, regulators are certainly going to be looking at reductions from landfills, among other non-power sources.