Pincer Move? State AGs Employ Two-Pronged Attack on U.S. EPA Over Landfill Emissions

Posted by

A multistate coalition of Attorneys General, including California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont; and the California Air Resources Board, joined to file comments demanding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdraw its proposed rule delaying by four years implementation of a regulation that would reduce emissions from landfills.

The regulation at issue, known formally as the 2016 Emission Guidelines and Compliance Times for Municipal Solid Waste Landfill, was designed to reduce landfill emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other pollutants. The EPA said earlier this year that it planned to re-evaluate the regulation in the coming years. The announcement prompted the group of attorneys general to sue the agency last spring, arguing that the delay amounted to a violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

According to the lawsuit, landfills are the third largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, and in 2015, accounted for approximately 18.2 percent of national emissions. The State AGs argue that the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate all categories of stationary sources that cause or contribute significantly to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare, including landfills.

Just a few weeks ago, that lawsuit survived a dismissal attempt by the EPA. “We are pleased that the court has upheld our right to address EPA’s long-overdue mandatory duties to control emissions from landfills,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who filed the suit in May 2018 in the Northern District of California.

“Noxious landfill emissions affect everyone, but disproportionately hurt our most vulnerable communities, impacting their health, environment, and standard of living,” AG Becerra said. “And given the role landfill emissions play in exacerbating climate change, EPA’s ongoing efforts to delay implementation of these regulations is unacceptable. We look forward to holding the EPA accountable for its failure to perform its mandatory duties under the Clean Air Act, and for its unwillingness to protect public health.”

In the midst of the government shutdown and the beginning of a mixed-control term in Congress, it is unclear how the federal government will respond to the increasing pressure placed on it by individual states. These landfill regulations are just the most recent example of how businesses will now face an increasingly complex web of environmental regulations, as individual states employ new tactics against a federal government facing budget and control issues for the first time under President Donald Trump. Individual business actors are those most at risk in this widening gap between EPA and state policies, as it becomes increasingly difficult to predict what regulations will be in place and how they will be enforced.