Landfills must comply with Obama-era methane limits after the EPA dropped plans to delay the rules, but companies also see an opportunity for the agency to shift its focus to rewriting the regulation.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Jan. 11 withdrew the plans to delay implementing the standards from review at the White House regulatory evaluation office. The agency was proposing to pause compliance with the 2016 regulations, which limit methane emissions from new and existing landfills.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced in May that the agency would reconsider portions of the landfill rules and delay the requirements for 90 days. That 90-day pause expired Aug. 29, bringing the rules into effect.
Dropping the delay frees up agency officials to work on reviewing the legal and technical issues her company and others have raised, Kerry Kelly, director of federal affairs for Waste Management Inc., told Bloomberg Environment.
“At this point, what they think—and certainly we agree—is all of our time is better spent focused on correcting the rules,” Kelly said. EPA officials called Waste Management to give a heads-up that the agency would be dropping the delay plans, she added.
Environmentalists, though, say the EPA’s move shows that agency officials realized it would be an uphill legal battle to get the delay plans to stick.
Ann Weeks, an attorney with the Clean Air Task Force, pointed to the EPA’s July court loss in its attempt to delay similar methane standards for the oil and gas sector methane for 90 days. Several environmental groups have also sued the agency over its 90-day delay of the landfill rules.
But the EPA dropping the delay plans “doesn’t really answer the question of whether the rules will be properly implemented,” Weeks told Bloomberg Environment. “They’ve indicated it’s not a high priority for them to get methane out of the air.”
Weeks also said even though the 90-day delay period has run out, environmental groups will continue to press their case against the landfill rule delay. “The question of lawfulness has not expired. It’s relevant to the larger question of the pattern of practice,” she said.
The EPA could use its recent action to make an excuse for eliminating the lawsuit over the 90-day delay, David Doniger, climate and clean energy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.
“The agency says, ‘It’s over, forget about it.’ But it has continuing cascading effects,” Doniger told Bloomberg Environment. He said some of the regulatory deadlines have slipped, and for the existing source rule, the EPA hasn’t given direction to states on when to submit their plans to beef up pollution controls.
The EPA must submit a brief defending its 90-day delay of the landfill standards to the court by Jan. 22.
Waste Management is moving forward with complying with the rules, Kelly said. She described the EPA’s reconsideration process as “productive” so far.
Industry representatives met with EPA officials in the fall to discuss the regulations, although, she added, it may be spring before the industry engages in detailed discussions with the agency.
“This is something we’re looking at carefully,” Brandon Wright, a spokesman for the National Waste & Recycling Association, told Bloomberg Environment. The waste group also petitioned the EPA to review several portions of the Obama-era regulations.
“Landfills are incredibly well-engineered structures, and we certainly as an industry take environmental protection seriously,” Wright said.
(Updates with additional reporting.)