R.I. Sues EPA for Failing to Enforce Landfill Emissions

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Rhode Island and eight other states are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to enforce rules that regulate climate emissions from landfills.

The 2016 Emission Guidelines and Compliance Times for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills reduces emissions of volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, carbon dioxide and methane. The rules went into effect Oct. 28, 2016, but they haven't been enforced by the Trump administration. Instead, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt wants to review the regulation and make a decision by 2020.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin called the EPA’s inaction “a blatant violation of the Clean Air Act.”

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate stationary sources of pollution, such as factories, power plants and landfills. Landfills are the third-largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions in the United States, accounting for 18.2 percent of national emissions in 2015, according to the EPA.

“Time and again the EPA has failed to properly implement rules that protect the air we breathe,”   Kilmartin said. “And, each time it has been attorneys general who have held the EPA and administrator Pruitt accountable, and we will continue to do so using every available legal avenue.”

The new regulations have numerous health and environmental benefits by preventing 7.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually. That’s equal to taking 1.6 million cars off the road for one year and eliminating electricity to 1.1 million homes.

The health benefits include reducing cases of asthma and other respiratory diseases, especially among vulnerable populations such as children and seniors. The regulations also reduce air pollutants linked to cancer.

Current rules require landfills to operate landfill gas-collection systems to reduce methane emissions. But the new regulations require that those systems are more efficient at collecting emissions. The landfill-gas collection system at Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation in Johnston is the largest landfill-gas collection system east of the Mississippi River. It's also one of the state’s largest generators of renewable energy, generating enough electricity to power 28,000 homes.