Further Delay of EPA Landfill Emission Limits Is Inexcusable

EPA recently issued a proposal to further delay a rule limiting harmful emissions from landfills – after the agency has already unlawfully suspended and postponed the rule for a year and a half. Today I had the opportunity to testify before EPA in a public hearing, to make NRDC’s case for why this proposed delay is not only legally unwarranted, but also puts both communities near landfills and our shared climate at risk by allowing landfills to continue emitting dangerous air pollution. Here is the testimony I gave this morning.  

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NRDC opposes EPA’s proposal to amend the 2016 Emission Guidelines for existing municipal solid waste landfills to further delay state planning deadlines that have already long since passed.

The 2016 Rule is projected to significantly reduce emissions of the landfill gas produced by the decomposition of waste, a mixture that includes methane, carbon dioxide, hazardous air pollutants, and volatile organic compounds that contribute to smog. EPA estimated in the 2016 Landfills Rule that these updated protections would reduce nearly three hundred thousand metric tons of methane pollution and two thousand metric tons of non-methane organic compounds each year by 2025, generating annual net benefits of 390 million dollars. Each day that EPA fails to implement the 2016 Landfills Rule delays the Rule’s promised emission reductions.

This Delay Proposal is unjustified, and is especially inexcusable after EPA has already postponed the Landfills Rule for a year and a half.

EPA’s purported basis for the Delay Proposal—to “harmonize” the Landfills Rule with changes to the Clean Air Act section 111(d) implementing regulations proposed in an unrelated rulemaking—is a slim reed to lean on. The regulatory amendments proposed in the so-called ACE rule would needlessly drag out the compliance schedule under section 111(d) by adding more than three years to the process. The ACE proposal offers no evidence of any need to relax compliance schedules, and EPA has provided no discussion or analysis of how the prolonged timeline will necessarily result in additional emissions. The proposed regulatory amendments are plainly arbitrary and capricious decisionmaking and should not be relied upon here.       

EPA’s recent actions regarding the Landfills Rule make clear that the ACE proposal is merely convenient pretext to continue to delay the Rule’s implementation.

On May 31, 2017—the day after the state plan submission deadline—then-Administrator Pruitt issued a 90-day stay of the Landfills Rule, which was challenged in court by NRDC, Clean Air Council, Clean Wisconsin, and Conservation Law foundation. In that case, we argued that even after the 90-day stay expired in August 2017, it had the effect of delaying a whole series of deadlines: for states to submit implementation plans; for EPA to approve or disapprove those plans and impose a federal plan on states that failed to submit an approvable plan; and for industry to install pollution controls. In a surprising response, EPA asserted that the original compliance dates did remain in effect—that both the May 30 state plan deadline and EPA’s own September deadline to review those plans “have come and gone” and “EPA has neither approved nor disapproved the state plans that were timely submitted, nor promulgated any federal plans.”

The Delay Proposal “notes that almost all of the states, rather than just a minority, did not submit a state plan.” But that’s because EPA told them not to bother. After the 90-day stay expired, an EPA spokesperson told trade press that EPA did not “plan to prioritize the review of these state plans” and was not “working to issue a Federal Plan for states that failed to submit a state plan.” EPA effectively turned an unlawful short-term stay into an unlimited delay in implementing these safeguards by simply declining to enforce the deadlines.

Now, EPA is facing more litigation—eight states and the Environmental Defense Fund have challenged the agency’s failure to perform its nondiscretionary duties to approve or disapprove any state plans and impose a federal plan on states that failed to submit a plan. Rather than accept its Clean Air Act obligations, EPA has doubled down on delay with this baseless proposal.

Pollution standards and regulatory deadlines are meaningless if the agency charged with protecting Americans from air pollution simply stalls and refuses to implement its duly promulgated safeguards. EPA should withdraw the baseless Delay Proposal and enforce the 2016 Landfills Rule.

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EPA is accepting comments on the Delay Proposal through January 3, 2019 – you can weigh in here.

About the Authors

Lissa Lynch

Staff Attorney, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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