On June 30, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released proposed updates to its air standards to reduce methane emissions from new municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills. The EPA’s proposal is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), originally announced June 2013 and updated in March 2014 with a strategy to cut methane emissions. The proposed EPA rule would require new landfills to capture two-thirds of all methane and air toxin emissions by 2023, a 13 percent increase from current capture levels. The EPA estimates that the net annual nationwide cost for compliance with this rule would be $471,000. On the same day, the EPA issued an Advanced Notice of Public Rulemaking to seek public comment about whether and how emissions standards should be updated for existing landfills, as significant changes have occurred in the landfill industry since the original guidelines were published in 1996. 

Methane can persist in the atmosphere for 12 years, and warms the Earth’s climate 28 times more than carbon dioxide over a hundred years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment. U.S. landfills contribute 18 percent of total U.S. methane emissions, making them the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions behind oil and gas production and livestock. The waste from homes and businesses that ends up in MSW landfills decomposes to create landfill gas, which is predominantly composed of methane, but also contains carbon dioxide and other air toxins. Captured methane can either be stored, or converted into an energy source and sold for profit. Of the 1,900 landfills in the United States, about 560 are already using methane capture technology to convert methane into electricity. 

“Reducing methane emissions is a powerful way to take action on climate change,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “This latest step from the President’s methane strategy builds on our progress to date and takes steps to cut emissions from landfills through common-sense standards.”

For more information, see our briefing, "Harnessing Landfill Methane to Benefit Local Economies and the Environment."