Last week, a federal judge denied a request from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) seeking to shift its timeline for implementing a 2016 rule targeting landfill emissions. As a result, EPA is required to finalize its federal implementation plan for landfill methane emissions by January 14, 2020.
This ruling marks the latest turn in a contentious battle for the industry. In 2016, U.S. EPA introduced its Emissions Guidelines (“EG”) rule alongside its New Source Performance Standards Rule, as part of a focus on reducing methane emissions. Under the original rules, state agencies were required to submit plans by May 2017 that would outline their proposal on reducing methane and other emissions from landfills. States that did not meet this deadline, or EPA’s standards, would have been subject to the federal plans.
Industry participants challenged these regulations, however, and were granted a 90-day stay in May 2017. Next steps remained unclear until October 2017, when the EPA confirmed that it would not sanction states that did not file EG plans. Arizona, California, Delaware, New Mexico, and West Virginia have since all submitted EG compliance plans, while other states are trying to determine whether to submit their own.
In 2018, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont challenged EPA, arguing that EPA must promulgate a federal plan. That challenge led to the May 6, 2019 ruling declaring EPA in violation of “long-overdue non-discretionary duties” under the Clean Air Act and directing the agency to issue, “no later than November 6, 2019,” a federal plan to implement its 2016 Landfill Emissions Guidelines.
EPA requested to delay promulgation of its final emissions plan, but its request was ultimately denied. The Court did, however, grant the agency a 60-day stay. Plaintiffs responded on December 5, 2019, arguing that “the equities here tilt sharply in favor of rejecting EPA’s bid to further delay implementation of regulations.” In a subsequent request, EPA again asserted the need for a delay of the regulations.
EPA’s subsequent request was denied, requiring the agency to finalize its federal implementation plan by January 14, 2020. EPA immediately responded to this denial by asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to postpone the deadline. Among its arguments, EPA asserted that “the number of landfills expected to be impacted by the landfill emission guidelines is small.” EPA requested relief by January 13, 2020.
For companies that operate landfills in multiple states around the country, this back-and-forth has been counterproductive and confusing. The regulatory disputes have left many operators with mixed messages over landfill regulations and have unfortunately required operators to wait for a path forward. Litigation over the issue is likely to continue nonetheless, to the dismay of the industry.