Members of the waste and recycling industry are knee-deep in reviewing the details of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final rules, which were released last Friday in an effort to help reduce methane emissions in municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills.
Currently, MSW landfills are ranked the second largest industrial source of methane emissions in the U.S., but the new rules are expected to cut methane emissions by approximately 334,000 tons a year starting in 2025. These rules are part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan: Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, and they serve as an update to the 1996 standards for existing landfills and strengthen the proposed rule for new landfills that was issued in 2014.
“Last week, the EPA released pre-publication copies of two rules: the Final New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and the Final Updates to Emission Guidelines (EG),” says Patrick Sullivan, senior vice president of SCS Engineers in Sacramento, Calif. “The first thing that members of the industry need to do is figure out which rule applies to them, find out if they are considered a ‘new landfill’ or not based on the new definition and move forward from there.”
“We have been waiting on these rules for a very long time,” says Anne Germain, director of waste and recycling technology for the National Waste and Recycling Association. “The EPA did a few draft rules before this, and we developed a lot of comments on those draft rules. Some were received well by the EPA and some not so much. For those of us who are thinking from the landfill owner perspective, the various regulations are one of those things that are challenging to keep up with.
One of the trickiest things about these new rules is that there will be technically be four types of landfills until all of the landfills meet the new rules.
“This isn’t the first time that this sequence of events has happened,” says Sullivan. “When these regulations were originally prorogated in March 1996, the exact same thing happened. If it plays out the same way, all of the different states and local jurisdictions will be on different timelines at the same time. You will have landfills complying with the old NSPS, landfills complying with the new NSPS, landfills complying with the updated EG rule and landfills complying with the old EG rule all at once. It will be on the industry to watch the process to see when the rules were developed and when they are approved by the EPA so that they know when they are effective.”
Waste360 recently spoke with Sullivan and Germain about some of the key takeaways from both the new rules and updated rules.
Final New Source Performance Standards
- This rule will become 40 Code of Federal Regulations Part 60 Subpart XXX, and it will become effective 60 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register.
- Based on the updated definition of “new landfill” created by the EPA, this rule is expected to affect a small portion of landfills.
- For a landfill to fall under the “new landfill” category, it would have had to commence construction or modification after July 17, 2014. If a landfill is pending an expansion, which can be one it’s permitting now or may have already permitted but haven’t started construction on, that landfill will also fall into that category once it commences construction or modification.
- Landfills are subject to the rule if they have a design capacity of 2.5 million metric tons and 2.5 million cubic meters of waste or more. This is the same as existing design capacity thresholds.
- Going forward, all new landfills that are built will have to comply with this rule right away after it’s published in the Federal Register.
Final Updates to Emission Guidelines
- This rule will become 40 Quota Federal Regulations Part 60 Subpart Cf, and it’s a federal guideline that informs states and local jurisdictions that they have delegation of the Clean Air Act from EPA and that they need to develop a rule that is at least as stringent as this federal guideline. The states and local jurisdictions will have nine months from the rule’s publication in the Federal Register to submit their updated EG rule for approval by the EPA. The EPA then has four months to approve it. The rule only goes into effect after the EPA gives its approval.
- “There are some places in the country that may try to change the rule to make it even more stringent, but we would prefer that they didn’t do that and that everyone remain subject to the same requirements,” says Sullivan.
- The EPA has lowered the non-methane organic compound emissions from 50 mega grams per year to 34 mega grams or more per year. Landfills are required to install and operate a gas collection control system within 30 months of meeting this threshold.
- For the closed landfill subcategory, the EPA allowed some flexibility. Any landfill that is closed or that closed within 13 months of the published date of this rule can continue to abide by the 50 mega grams per year threshold. These landfills will have to continue to collect and control gas until their non-methane organic compound emissions fall below 50 mega grams per year.
- “Due to the threshold change, some landfills that may not have been controlled will now be controlled and some landfills will hit the threshold earlier, resulting in additional years where they will have a collection system,” says Sullivan.
- Members of the industry will have to track the new EG rule development to know which sites are in what jurisdictions and when those sites will have to comply with the new standards. All of the landfills across the country will have different dates of when they will have to comply with the new rule, but that is the same process that the industry has now. For companies that have multiple jurisdictions, this can be a hassle.
- In the past, the EPA issued a federal plan to the few states and local jurisdictions that didn’t submit an updated EG plan. Currently, the EPA does not have a federal plan for the new rule, and it will not make one unless it has to, according to Sullivan. It is unknown at this time if there is any punishment for not submitting an updated EG plans.
- This rule has been updated so that landfill owners have to perform quarterly surface monitoring. They have to walk around the perimeter of the landfill and around the surface of the landfill at a pathway that’s no wider than 30 meters apart.
- In addition to that path, they previously had to test any areas that have been identified as a source of emissions, such as a crack in the cover or a strong smell. Now, the EPA has stated that all surface penetrations have to be tested every quarter, which can pretty much be anything that pops through the surface like a wellhead or a fence post.
- “The updated surface penetration rule is not what the industry wanted because some landfills can have 1,000 or more penetrations and testing them all will add a lot of time and cost to those who monitor the landfills,” says Sullivan. “We don’t think statistically that every penetration is enough of an emissions source to require monitors to test every one of them quarterly. The EPA did update the definition of a penetration, which helps slightly by eliminating temporary items like fencing and survey stakes.”
- “When you first trigger the requirement to put in a gas system, the first thing you need to do is submit a design plan that is developed, reviewed and stamped by and engineer and explains how you will meet the requirements,” says Sullivan. “In the past, you would submit it to the state or local agency, which was a huge problem because approximately 20 percent or less of plans would get approved. We expressed our concerns to the EPA about this problem, and it met us halfway.”
- The updated rule states that when states or jurisdictions have a completed plan, they have to notify the state or local agency that it’s done. With this notification, they have to include the signature page that shows it has been stamped by a professional engineer. Once this notification is submitted, the agency has 90 days to respond about plan submission. If the agency requests that the plan be submitted, the state or local jurisdiction will then go through the approval process. If the agency doesn’t respond to the notification, the state or jurisdiction can install the gas system according to the design plan “at their own risk.”
- “This rule has created a catch 22 for those in the industry because they are required to install a gas system, but they cannot get design plans approved,” says Germain. “Our members default to what is going to be the best for the environment, which is to put in the gas collection system. But by doing that, they are putting themselves at risk for possible violations, additions and retrofits.”
Startup, Shutdown and Malfunction
- “When this regulation first came out, it featured a very cool exception that the industry certainly made use of,” says Sullivan. “It stated that the provision of the subpart (the entire rule) applied at all times except during periods of startup, shutdown and malfunction. Because of the nature of landfill gas systems, there are a lot of times where the system has to be shut down or the system malfunctions. This was a very useful exception because industry members could just show that they have a qualifying startup, shutdown or malfunction event to be exempt from the rule.”
- The EPA has now updated this rule to say that the provision of the subpart (the entire rule) applies at all times including during periods of startup, shutdown and malfunction. When the landfill gas system goes offline for any reason, it’s no longer exempt from the rule.
- “The EPA has tried to establish work practice standards, stating that if we comply with these standards during startup, shutdown and malfunction periods then we should be ok, even if we aren’t meeting the actual emissions standard,” says Sullivan. “We need to dig into this rule as an industry and figure out if we are still protected.”
- “We have some uncertainty about the new startup, shutdown, malfunction standard,” says Germain. “The EPA is looking into many different industries on this subject, and we need to work with the EPA to ensure that this process to be consistent and that it’s going to allow us to operate in a way that is best for the environment.”
- Treated landfill gas may now be used not only as a fuel for stationary engines but also for other beneficial purposes, such as vehicle fuel, production of high-Btu gas for pipeline injection and a raw material for chemical manufacturing.
- Under the new treatment rule update, landfill owners must develop a site-specific monitoring plan for treatment as part of their Title V permit application. “While we had success with the EPA changing the definition of treatment to make it more flexible, the site-specific monitoring plan for treatment will certainly be problematic for the industry,” says Sullivan.
- “We are really pleased that the EPA listened to us on the treatment standards,” says Germain. “There is a lot of stuff in there that we like because that makes it easier for the industry to comply with.”
Pressure, Temperature and Oxygen
- Landfill owners are no longer required to meet the previous 5 percent oxygen standard. They are, however, still required to monitor oxygen levels and keep records of them.
- The 131 degree F temperature standard has not changed, which is not what the industry wanted. According to Sullivan, the industry pushed for more flexibility.
A group consisting of Solid Waste Association of North America representatives, NWRA representatives, SCS Engineers team members and other industry leaders has been working together on communicating with the EPA about these rules.
“The new rules are written as if we are starting over from the beginning in some areas,” says Sullivan. “The rules mention requirements about submitting a design capacity report and then an emissions report, but landfill owners were already required to do that when they first opened the landfill. We need to connect with the EPA on that aspect and find out if it really wants everyone to resubmit those design reports or if they can just use the one they submitted when they first opened. Going back to the beginning doesn’t really make a lot of sense.”
The next step for this group is to meet at SWANA’s WASTECON show in Indianapolis, in late August, to discuss the new rules and provide the public with a summary. There will also be a panel discussion at WASTECON about the new rules.
“We need to go through everything with a fine tooth comb, and we have to make sure that we work through every detail of the rules to ensure that the industry as a whole understands all of the changes,” says Germain.