Last Friday, the EPA announced new rules that will cut landfills’ methane emissions by one third.
The latest regulation is an update to rules last updated over 20 years ago. They are expected to reduce methane emissions by around 334,000 tons a year in 2025. That is equivalent to reducing 8.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Methane is a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential over 25 times that of carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. But over a 20 year period, it can be 86 times more potent. Methane is the second-most common greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, and nearly 20 percent of those emissions come from landfills.
The methane regulations update the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and, in a separate action, revise the Emissions Guidelines from 1996. These actions further implement President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and its “Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.”
“The final NSPS and emission guidelines continue to cover MSW Landfill emissions (commonly known as landfill gas) as the regulated or designated pollutant,” the EPA told ThinkProgress in an email. “Non-methane organic compounds (NMOC) are measured as a surrogate for the listed pollutant.”
The EPA finalized details dealing with landfill gas treatment, owner and operator compliance, startup, shutdown, and malfunction issues.
Under the NSPS rule, new landfills — after July 17, 2014 — will have to install a gas collection control system if NMOCs exceed 34 metric tons per year. That number is one third less than the previous threshold of 50.
The control system may either route it to a non-enclosed flare, an enclosed combustion device, or a treatment system which can ultimately sell the methane as a source of energy. An estimated 128 landfills will be subjected to this rule, and of these, 115 will be required to install the controls in 2025. The remaining 13 will report their emissions.
The threshold also applies to landfills existing prior to July 17, 2014. An estimated 1,014 active existing landfills will be affected, with 731 controlling landfill gas in 2025. However, this is only 93 more than under the previous rules. Another 77 will be required to report their emissions, and over 200 landfills are either closed or expected to close within 13 months after the rule is published in the Federal Register.
The net cost of the emission guidelines — or the costs after subtracting the benefits — will be around $54 million in 2025. The climate benefits outweigh the total costs by a factor of eight. For every dollar spent to comply with guidelines, the expected benefit is over eight dollars. That adds up to $444 million in 2025.
The benefits from the rule that affects new landfills will be over 10 dollars for every dollar spent to comply. The costs are an estimated $6 million in 2025, while the benefits are $68.3 million.
Between both new rules, the EPA expects a total benefit of $512 million.
The climate benefits that were included in the calculations include human health impacts, property damages from flood risk, and the value of ecosystem services, and others, according to the final rules fact sheet.
The Obama administration has been ramping up its efforts to reduce methane emissions. In May, the EPA finalized new methane regulations for the oil and gas industry. Since then, North Dakota filed a lawsuit against the EPA over the rule.
Food waste is partly to blame for the methane pollution from landfills. The EPA’s rule noted that there is not enough information on how the regulations would affect how much waste is diverted to recycling, waste-to-energy facilities, or composting. While lowering methane emissions has clear climate benefits, avoiding wasted food and other organics would also contribute to reducing methane emissions. Around 40 percent of food grown in the United States ends up wasted.
“EPA acknowledged alternative approaches (such as diversion, composting, recycling, and waste-to-energy) at proposal and in its final rules as well as the Regulatory Impact Analysis (and other supplemental documents) for these actions,” the EPA added in an email to ThinkProgress. “EPA does not believe that its final actions preclude these activities.”
“Further the final rules specifically acknowledge that the use of alternative approaches, such as diversion, may increase as a result of the agency’s allowance of a site-specific approach to determining gas collection and control system installation.”
In addition to efforts to decrease methane emissions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and EPA announced last September a goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
Sydney Pereira is an intern with ThinkProgress.