Impacts from Latest EPA Proposals to Reduce Landfill Gas Emissions



The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued proposals designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that would require more than 100 municipal solid waste landfills to install systems to collect and control landfill gas. While the EPA seems confident in the positive environmental benefits of the new standards, it has comparatively little to say about the economic impacts on landfill operators.

The new rules are updates to the agency’s 1996 Emissions Guidelines for existing MSW landfills along with a new proposal for new and modified facilities. Both are part of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan: Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions. That plan, issued in 2014, emphasizes reducing methane emissions as a “powerful way to take action on climate change” and touts methane as a source of clean energy.

‘Global warming potential 20 times that of carbon dioxide’

Methane accounts for 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, the administration says, but has “global warming potential 20 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.” Landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions, the plan says, accounting for 18 percent of the total. Under the plan, emissions of landfill gas can be reduced by reducing landfill waste, encouraging voluntary energy recovery projects through the EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program, and through the new standards contained in the proposals just released.

Currently, 574 open and closed landfills are required to collect and control their emissions. The annual threshold currently set at 50 metric tons of non-methane organic compounds would change to 34 metric tons for active landfills under the proposed guidelines. Thus an additional 106 open landfills would be required to collect and control landfill gas emissions.

“EPA estimates the nationwide cost of complying with the proposed guidelines at $47 million a year in 2025,” the agency has said. “This includes the cost of installing and operating a gas collection and control system, and at some landfills, the cost of an engine that uses the landfill gas to generate electricity. The costs also reflect the revenues landfills may make by selling electricity generated using landfill gas.”

A landfill cap and gas-collection system in one

Traditional systems rely on vertical gas wells to convey landfill gas. ClosureTurf®, a hybrid final cover system solution marketed by Agru America, employs a Surficial Gas Collection System (SGCS) that captures emissions as they passively rise to the surface. They are collected under the system’s impermeable membrane, discharged through the patented  vent system and then pulled by an applied vacuum to the flare system. The absence of vertical wells eliminates the constant monitoring and adjustments needed to address fire hazards caused by the incursion of excess oxygen into a landfill.

The Timber Ridge Landfill in Richwoods, Missouri, estimates that over a 30-year period, it will save approximately $53,000 per acre on SGCS alone. Progressive Waste (IESI) regional engineer, Michael Friesen has said, “Since the cap acts as our gas system, we basically have a landfill gas system free of charge.”

In an industry in which regulations continue to tighten and costs escalate, free is one change that is always welcome.

ClosureTurf® is a product of Watershed Geosynthetics, LLC  (U.S. Patent Nos. 7,682,105 & 8,585,322.  Canada Patent No. 2,663,170. Other Patents Pending) that is exclusively marketed by Agru America Inc.