Long-Anticipated MACT Standards Finally on the Table

After 10 years of waiting in a bin at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., a set of proposed standards regulating landfills' emission of hazardous air pollutants may soon become law.

While past landfill regulations have sparked debate with waste industry representatives, these new maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards have elicited few concerns.

This is because the pollutants that MACT seeks to regulate already are covered under the EPA's existing new source performance standards (NSPS). Landfill operators have adhered to NSPS since 1996 by controlling so-called “criteria pollutants” and “volatile organics.” So at its core, MACT is nothing new, says EPA Environmental Engineer Michele Laur.

However, the MACT standards will require some procedural changes, Laur says.

“For one thing, [MACT] requires sites to do continuous compliance,” which involves detailed data collection according to strict procedures described in the rule, she says. Additionally, “MACT requires landfill operators to do compliance reporting semi-annually instead of annually.” This will allow regulators enough time to act within an enforcement window, she adds.

Although U.S. lawmakers described the basis for MACT in 1991, the proposed MACT standards for landfills were not published in the Federal Register until four months ago. This is because in 1991, EPA regulators knew very little about landfills, Laur says.

“Those industries that the EPA knew the most about were placed in the first bin, because we thought we could get to those quickly,” she says. “We didn't think we had a lot of data on landfills, so they were done in the 10-year bin.”

After the proposed MACT standards were published on Nov. 11, 2000, stakeholders were given until Jan. 8, 2001 to submit comments.

Although Laur says none of the comments the EPA received present significant roadblocks to the rule's progress, representatives from the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md., the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), Washington, D.C., and private haulers such as Waste Management Inc., Houston, have raised some concerns.

SWANA's concerns deal primarily with the rule's implementation, according to Frank Caponi, chairman of the association's rules and regulations committee. For example, SWANA has asked the EPA to clarify the term “malfunction,” to address discrepancies between NSPS and MACT definitions.

Additionally, SWANA has requested that the EPA clarify reporting responsibilities under MACT. Another concern is whether the MACT standards will allow specific landfills to develop alternatives to certain regulations, a practice currently allowed under NSPS.

Finally, SWANA disagrees with the EPA's characterization of large landfills as “major sources” of hazardous pollutant emissions. SWANA says that these landfills should be classified as “area sources” because most landfills comply with current NSPS standards by controlling such pollutants.

“It is important to apply the proper designation to landfills,” SWANA says, “so that other rule-making activities … are implemented correctly.”

Echoing these concerns, the NSWMA recommends “that the EPA review the current literature on air emissions from MSW landfills and utilize this newer data to determine [hazardous air pollutant] emissions.”

Also concerned about reporting and “malfunction” issues, the NSWMA has provided specific recommendations for clarifying MACT requirements.

And, the NSWMA has asked the EPA to review available data on mercury emissions from landfills to determine whether mercury emission levels are significant enough to merit regulation under MACT standards. Similarly, NSWMA has suggested that the EPA defer any decision on bioreactor landfill regulations until sufficient data on these facilities can be gathered.

“Because most bioreactor projects are just getting underway, another three to five years of emissions monitoring at these sites will be required before changes to or the development of new regulations should occur,” NSWMA's comments say.

Currently, the EPA is reviewing these and other comments, and intends to publish the MACT rule in the Federal Register by Sept. 2001, Laur says. Following the rule's publication, stakeholders again will be given approximately two months to submit additional comments.

The EPA usually gives operators three years to comply with a new rule. However, because the MACT standards do not change landfill operators' responsibilities drastically, “we're going to make this rule effective in a year instead of three,” Laur says.

So, if all goes according to Laur's predicted timeline, landfill operators may be complying with MACT regulations by the beginning of 2003.


The Future of Renewable Energy

By 2020, 448 billion kilowatt hours of grid-connected U.S. electricity generation will come from renewable energy sources, compared to 389 billion kilowatt hours in 1999.

Renewable energy is projected to make up a smaller percentage of U.S. electricity generation by 2020 than it does today.

State renewable energy mandates are projected to require an additional 5,065 megawatts of central station renewable generating capacity by 2020.

Electricity generation from U.S. municipal solid waste (MSW) is projected to increase by 15.9 billion kilowatt hours during the next 20 years.

U.S. landfill gas capacity is projected to increase by 2.1 gigawatts by 2020.

No new capacity is projected between now and 2020 for U.S. solid waste incinerators.

Source: The Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Department of Energy's Annual Energy Outlook 2001, with Projections to 2020