Regulatory Tracker

Municipal Solid Waste Landfill New Source Performance Standards and Emissions Guidelines for Methane

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Quick Take

On May 21, 2021, EPA promulgated a final rule that implements a federal plan and the 2016 Obama-era rule’s emission guidelines and compliance deadlines for municipal solid waste landfills.

Why it Matters

When the waste in landfills decomposes, methane, carbon dioxide, and other hazardous pollutants are released. During the Obama administration, EPA finalized two rules under Clean Air Act Section 111 targeting methane by tightening emissions reduction requirements for new and existing municipal solid waste landfills. EPA updated the standards of performance for new municipal landfills and the emissions guidelines and compliance times for existing municipal landfills, lowering the emissions threshold for when landfills must install controls, among other changes.

In 2017, the Trump administration reconsidered the rule revisions in response to industry petitions, delaying their requirements. Lawsuits challenged EPA’s delays and failure to enforce the Obama-era rules. In August 2019 EPA published a final rule revising the 2016 emissions guidelines for existing landfills, pushing back compliance dates significantly and aligning them with the Affordable Clean Energy rule (ACE).

Current Status

After the Biden administration began, EPA asked the DC Circuit to vacate the 2019 rule and remand it to the agency for review. On April 5, 2021 the court did so. EPA finalized a new rule implementing federal guidelines for existing landfills on May 21, 2021.

Timeline of Events

Obama administration
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Aug. 29, 2016 EPA finalizes two rules targeting methane emissions from new and existing landfills (the New Source Performance Standards and Emissions Guidelines, respectively). They are scheduled to go into effect on October 28, 2016, but industry petitions EPA for reconsideration on Oct. 27, 2016.

Trump Administration
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May 5, 2017 Administrator Pruitt sends a letter to industry announcing that EPA will reconsider several aspects of the landfill rules.

May 31, 2017 EPA publishes its decision to reconsider several issues in the landfill rules and to delay the rules for 90 days.

June 16, 2017 Environmental groups sue EPA over the delayNRDC et al. v. EPA, No. 17-1157 (D.C. Cir.).

Aug. 4, 2017 The environmental groups ask the court to vacate EPA’s administrative stay of the landfill rule, but the court denies the request on Sep. 28, 2017. Because the 90-day delay has expired by this date and the rules should be in effect, the court orders parties to submit briefs on “whether the lawsuit is now moot.”  NRDC, et al. v. EPA, No. 17-1157 (D.C. Cir.).

Feb. 1, 2018 The DC Circuit grants plaintiffs’ request to voluntarily dismiss its petition. Plaintiffs dismissed the case after EPA clarified that its stay did not affect any deadlines outside of the 90-day delay period. NRDC, et al. v. EPA, No. 17-1157 (D.C. Cir.).

March 23, 2018 Seven state attorneys general notify EPA they will sue in 60 days over its failure to enforce the 2016 Emissions Guidelines for existing municipal and solid waste landfills. On May 31, 2018, state AGs from CA, IL, MD, NM, OR, PA, RI, and VT file suit against EPA. They ask the court to declare that EPA violated the Clean Air Act and require EPA to implement and enforce the guidelines. California, et al. v. EPA, No. 4:18-cv-03237 (N.D.Cal.).

June 20, 2018 The Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council send a 60-day notice of intent to sue to EPA for failing to implement or enforce the Emissions Guidelines and Compliance Times for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills issued on August 29, 2016.

Sep. 13, 2018 Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) files a motion to intervene in the state AGs’ suit against EPA for failing to publish emissions guidelines.

Oct. 11, 2018 EPA files its final reply urging dismissal. California, et al. v. EPA, No. 4:18-cv-03237 (N.D.Cal.).

Oct. 23, 2018 EPA notifies the court in the AGs’ suit that Acting Administrator Wheeler signed a proposed rule that would amend the deadlines in the 2016 Emission Guidelines and Compliance Times for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills. The proposal would result in extending the deadlines for states to submit plans to August 29, 2019. EPA would then have six months to review the plans for completeness and another 12 months after that to consider whether to approve the plan. This new timing would align the deadlines with EPA’s ACE proposal. California, et al. v. EPA, No. 4:18-cv-03237 (N.D.Cal.). EPA publishes its proposed rule extending the deadline on Oct. 30, 2018.

Nov. 5, 2018 EPA files a motion to stay the suit brought by state AGs for EPA’s failure to enforce the 2016 emissions guidelines, pending the completion of the proposed rulemaking initiated on October 30, 2018. California, et al. v. EPA, No. 4:18-cv-03237 (N.D.Cal.).

Dec. 21, 2018 The court denies EPA’s motion to stay and motion to dismiss the suit alleging EPA failed to perform its non-discretionary duty to enforce the 2016 emissions guidelines. California, et al. v. EPA, No. 4:18-cv-03237 (N.D.Cal.).

Jan. 22, 2019 States and environmental plaintiffs file summary judgment motion in case alleging EPA failed to enforce the 2016 emissions guidelines. California, et al. v. EPA, No. 4:18-cv-03237 (N.D.Cal.).

May 6, 2019 A federal judge in California finds EPA violated the CAA by failing to review and approve state submitted plans to implement the 2016 landfill emissions guidelines and issue a federal plan within the required timeframes. The court orders EPA to approve or disapprove the 7 plans submitted by 5 states by September 6, 2019; to promulgate the required federal plan by November 6, 2019; and to submit status reports to the court every 90 days beginning August 5, 2019. California, et al. v. EPA, No. 4:18-cv-03237 (N.D.Cal.).

Aug. 22, 2019 EPA proposes a federal plan to implement the 2016 emissions guidelines for existing municipal solid waste landfills where state or tribal plans are not in effect. Per court order, EPA has until November 6, 2019 to finalize this federal plan.

Aug. 26, 2019 EPA publishes a final rule revising the 2016 emissions guidelines for existing landfills. The rule changes the timing requirements to align with the updated Clean Air Act section 111(d) implementing regulations finalized in the ACE rule on July 8, 2019 (see more about the ACE rule on our Clean Power Plan page). The new rule requires states to submit their plans within three years of the publication of emissions guidelines. EPA then must approve or disapprove the state plans within twelve months after they are determined to be complete. Under the old rule, states had nine months to submit plans, and EPA had four months to respond.

Oct. 24, 2019 A federal judge in the Northern District of California holds a hearing on EPA’s request that he amend his May order requiring EPA to comply with Obama-era landfill air pollution regulations by November 6th in light of more recent rule revisions EPA argues makes the order moot. California v. EPA, Case No. 4:18-cv-03237 (N.D. Cal.).

Oct. 25, 2019 Nine states petition the DC Circuit for review of EPA’s Final Rule on landfill regulations, arguing that EPA’s proposed amendment and delay of the California District Court’s order to review 7 state plans by November 6th would cause exposure to the full set of harms under the Final Rule, which amends Obama-era landfill air pollution regulations. California v. EPA, Case No. 19-1227 (D.C. Circuit).

Dec. 17, 2019 A federal court denies EPA’s request to stay its Nov. 5, 2019 order confirming the court-ordered schedule for EPA to approve or disapprove state implementation plans by Sep. 6, 2019 and to issue a federal plan (applicable to disapproved states) by Nov. 6, 2019. EPA asked the court to put the deadlines on hold while it appeals the court’s Nov. 5th decision not to amend them. EPA had asked the court to amend the deadlines after it issued a new rule on Aug. 26, 2019 attempting to change the underlying compliance dates in the 2016 landfill emissions rule. California v. EPA, No. 4:18-cv-03237 (N.D. Cal.).

Oct. 22, 2020 The Ninth Circuit rules that EPA can delay its issuance of a new federal plan for landfill emissions until August 30, 2021. This decision reverses a lower court ruling that EPA had to issue the new plan by November 6, 2019. California v. EPA, No. 19-17480 (9th Cir.).

Jan. 19, 2021 The N.D. of Cal. District Court modifies its prior order in accordance with the Ninth Circuit decision, eliminating the Nov. 6, 2019 deadline for the EPA to issue a federal plan. California v. EPA, No. 4:18-cv-03237 (N.D. Cal.).

Biden Administration
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Jan. 20, 2021 President Biden signs EO 13990 that revokes Trump’s EO 13795 and directs all agencies to review and consider revising rules issued during the Trump administration.

Feb. 5, 2021 The D.C. Circuit holds in abeyance the consolidated cases challenging the final landfill regulations. California v. EPA, Case No. 19-1227 (D.C. Circuit).

March 4, 2021 EPA asks the D.C. Circuit to vacate its 2019 rule that delayed implementation of 2016 methane emissions limits for landfills and remand it to the agency. EDF v. EPA, No. 19-1222 (D.C. Circuit). The DC Circuit grants EPA’s request on April 5, 2021.

May 21, 2021 EPA publishes a final rule in the Federal Register establishing new federal plan requirements for municipal landfills implementing the 2016 emissions guidelines and compliance times.

Dec. 9, 2021 Environmental groups file a notice of intent to sue EPA for failing to review emissions factors used to quantify emissions coming from municipal landfills once every three years as required by the Clean Air Act Section 130, highlighting that EPA has not revised the factors since 1998. After sixty days, the groups may file a lawsuit to compel EPA to act.