The legal battle among eight states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a stalled methane emission guidelines rule for municipal solid waste landfills is ongoing. The states that are suing the agency for delaying action on the rule will have their day in a California U.S. district court on April 25, four months after the EPA’s motion to dismiss was denied.
The 2016 Emission Guidelines and Compliance Times for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills rule requires that states devise methane emission reduction plans or follow federal government plans. The states’ plans were to be in place in 2017.
In a summary judgement hearing on April 25, the eight states will ask the U.S. district court for the Northern District of California to immediately order EPA to act on the rule. Specifically, their motion for summary judgement requests that EPA respond to already submitted state plans within 30 days, announce a federal plan within five months, respond to future state submissions within 60 days and submit status reports to the court every 60 days.
Plaintiffs are California, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. They charge the EPA is in violation of the Clean Air Act by lagging on the rule established to manage landfill emissions of volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, carbon dioxide and methane.
“Noxious landfill emissions affect everyone but disproportionately hurt our most vulnerable communities, impacting their health, environment and standard of living,” says Xavier Becerra, California attorney general. “And given the role landfill emissions play in exacerbating climate change, EPA’s ongoing efforts to delay implementation of these regulations is unacceptable. We look forward to holding the EPA accountable for its failure to perform its mandatory duties under the Clean Air Act and for its unwillingness to protect public health.”
New Mexico submitted an implementation plan in May 2017. EPA’s failure to act on it by the November 2017 deadline has created regulatory uncertainty as the state’s plan is not federally enforceable, according to Cholla Khoury, director of Environmental and Consumer Protections in New Mexico, Office of the Attorney General for the state.
“More significantly, New Mexico is a water-scarce state that is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change … In addition, New Mexico is the home of the infamous methane ‘hot spot’ detected by satellites. Although this phenomenon is attributed primarily to oil and gas development, it demonstrates that substantial reductions of this potent greenhouse gas are needed wherever they can be achieved," says Khoury.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has called for a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from 2006 levels by 2030 to mitigate climate change.
In Maryland’s declaration, which was part of the motion for summary judgement, George S. Aburn, Jr. of the Maryland Department of the Environment stated, “… unless the impacts of climate change are effectively reduced, Maryland faces severe consequences.”
Aburn went on to say a working group of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change (MCCC) estimates indicate that sea level could be as much as 2.1 feet higher in 2050 along Maryland’s shorelines than it was in 2000.
“The MCCC recommends that it would be prudent to plan for such an occurrence,” he says.
In particular, the state has expressed concerns over the impact of climate change from emissions on the Chesapeake Bay, which generates about $1 trillion annually in revenue.
“Human development and pollution have degraded the natural resilience of the ecosystems of the bay and its watershed, leaving them more vulnerable to extreme events. Climate change will likely exacerbate this problem,” notes Aburn.
In an earlier statement, the eight states pointed out that EPA originally asserted that pollution reductions that would result from the landfill emission rules would improve air quality and reduce potential for public health effects from landfill gas emissions. But “instead of working to support and ensure compliance … EPA has worked to undermine them,” the states contended.
The EPA argues the lawsuit should be put on hold as it plans to enforce the rule in 2023.