EPA Proposed Rulemaking for Landfills Could Impact Cities

September 23, 2013

By Carolyn Berndt

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently held a Federal Consultation meeting for state and local government groups, in which NLC participated, to outline a proposed rulemaking for New Source Performance Standards and Emission Guidelines for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills. The Federalism Consultation process allows local governments the opportunity to weigh in on important regulations at an early stage in their development.

These landfills take household waste and can also receive other types of waste, such as non-hazardous sludge and commercial solid waste. The rulemaking is aimed at reducing “landfill gas,” which occurs from the decomposition of organic wastes and consists of 50 percent methane, 50 percent carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of non-methane organic compounds, which contains hazardous air pollutants.

As part of the rulemaking, EPA is considering several options for changing the current rule requirements, including:

  • Lowering or removing the landfill size threshold,
  • Lowering the emission threshold,
  • Shortening the time allowed for gas collection system installation,
  • Shortening the time allowed for wellfield expansion.

Based on the options EPA is considering, the Agency estimates the annual costs for existing landfills could range from $500,000 to $58 million nationwide, with an average cost per landfill ranging from $7500 to $98,000 above the baseline of compliance with the current rule..

EPA estimates the annual costs for New Source Performance Standards for new landfills will range from $290,000 to $1.1 million nationwide, with an estimated average cost per landfill ranging from $18,000 to $69,000. Over the next five years, EPA estimates that approximately 20 new landfills will be built.

There are currently over 2,000 active landfills in the United States, 729 of which are currently subject to either the New Source Performance Standards or Emissions Guidelines.

Of these, nearly 100 are city-owned or operated and are currently subject to regulation, or could be soon. There are many more county-owned or operated public landfills that are or could be impacted by this proposed rule. As a result of these new compliance costs, residents are likely to see rate increases or other fees. City residents who send their trash to private landfill could also be impacted by rate increases.

EPA is pursuing this proposed rulemaking, in part, because of a court order. As part of a settlement, EPA agreed to propose a rule by Feb. 4, 2014 and take final action on the proposal by Dec. 17, 2014.

As a next step, EPA is accepting comments on the proposed rulemaking until Nov. 8, 2013. NLC is reviewing the potential impacts on local governments and intends to submit comments. Cities, towns or state leagues may also submit written comments before the deadline to ward.hillary@epa.gov, with a copy to hanson.andrew@epa.gov and Berndt@nlc.org.

Additional information about the air regulations for municipal solid waste landfills can be found on the EPA website.