EPA Faces Urgent Call to Address 14% Methane Emissions from Landfills

May 20, 2024
2 mins read
King of the Trash Hill, Photo Credit: Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0 DEED)
King of the Trash Hill, Photo Credit: Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

While the world is grappling with a severe climate crisis, increasing methane emissions are escalating tensions. As per the report published on Thursday, methane emissions at nearly two dozen of  US landfills regularly exceeded federal limits. According to inspections, in some cases, methane emissions spiked higher than what facility owners reported to the government.

“Inadequate federal rules have allowed poor management practices to continue undetected for years and for methane leaks to fall through the cracks. While EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance is using its available resources to address methane emissions from landfills, thanks to these flawed regulations, it’s a game of whack-a-mole.”

Katherine Blauvelt, Circular Economy Director at Industrious Labs

The study conducted by environmental nonprofit Industrious Labs suggested that the U.S Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) regulations are insufficient to prevent landfills or garbage dumps, from emitting large amounts of climate-warming gas methane. 

Methane, known as a potent short-term greenhouse gas, is more effective at warming the planet than carbon dioxide. Scientists and policymakers have called for aggressive action to rein in methane emissions to fight climate change. In 2022, methane emissions from U.S. landfills accounted for more than 14% of total emissions.

The EPA noted that methane emissions represent a lost opportunity to capture and use an energy resource. Additionally, the agency reported last year that food waste was responsible for about 58% of fugitive methane emissions from landfills and recommended diverting food waste to reduce emissions in the sector.

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“We’ve made substantial progress on environmental and climate justice since the 1979 Bean v Southwestern Waste Management Corp. lawsuit and my Houston solid waste and race study that documented for the first time the disproportionate impact of landfill siting on the Black Houstonians. Yet, some things remain unchanged. In Texas, people of color are two times more likely than White people to live within one mile of a landfill. The Hidden Cost of Landfills details how flawed landfill regulations perpetuate a climate injustice that disproportionately impacts Black people, people of color and indigenous people. Those most impacted need relief now.”

Dr. Robert D. Bullard, Director of the Bullard Center for Environmental & Climate Justice at Texas Southern University.

The EPA is required to use more advanced monitoring technologies, extend regulations to smaller landfills, and mandate the speedier installation of gas-capturing systems as landfills expand, among other recommendations.

To tackle these critical levels of threats in climate change, the EPA is in the process of reassessing its landfill regulations, with a review expected by August this year. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has increased efforts to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas industry, spearheading a global effort in 2021 to slash methane emissions.

“EPA can raise the bar for how emissions are found, captured and controlled by updating its landfill standards under the Clean Air Act, delivering healthier air for millions of Americans and helping to meet our global methane reduction commitments,” concluded Katherine.

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