Attorney General Shapiro Sues EPA Over Failure to Enforce a Critical Rule on Methane in Landfills

May 31, 2018 | Topic: Rights

Methane emissions contribute to climate change that threatens Pennsylvania, including rising sea levels, extreme weather events and drought  

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro, together with a coalition of seven other Attorneys General, today sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its failure to implement and enforce a critical federal rule regulating methane emissions from landfills. There are 44 landfills in Pennsylvania.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and the second leading climate-forcing agent after carbon monoxide globally. It warms the climate 86 times more over a 20-year time frame than carbon monoxide. Climate change from gases like methane harm citizens through increased incidences of heat deaths, asthma, heart disease and emphysema, and contributes to increasingly severe weather events, including hurricanes, floods, beach erosion and severe drought.

The rule – known as the 2016 Emission Guidelines and Compliance Times for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills – reduces landfill emissions of methane, volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants and carbon dioxide. It went into effect on October 28, 2016 — but the EPA has not implemented or enforced it.

Instead, with no legal basis for delaying implementation and enforcement, the EPA stated it plans to complete a reconsideration of the rule by spring 2020 – a violation of the Clean Air Act, according to the lawsuit filed today by Attorney General Shapiro and his colleagues in U.S. District Court in California.

“Methane is one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “I filed this suit to ensure the EPA does its job – mandated by Congress and the Clean Air Act — to limit this major contributor to climate change. The EPA and Secretary Pruitt cannot ignore their legal obligations and compromise the health and safety of Pennsylvanians. I won’t allow it.”

Since Attorney General Shapiro took office in January 2017, he has been fighting to protect Pennsylvanians’ constitutional right to clean air and pure water. At his direction, the Office of Attorney General has filed seven lawsuits against the EPA, and nine suits overall dealing with environmental issues, including an April lawsuit against the EPA for ignoring its responsibility under the Clean Air Act to control methane pollution. Last year, the EPA reversed its course on delaying the implementation of an ozone rule a day after being challenged in federal court by Attorney General Shapiro and 14 other state Attorneys General.

Landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 18.2 percent of emissions nationally in 2015. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to regulate all categories of stationary sources – such as landfills – that cause or contribute significantly to air pollution that may endanger public health.

When adequately enforced, the federal rule at issue would lead to numerous public health and environmental benefits including:

  • Preventing 8.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, which translates to:
    • 1.8 million passenger vehicles driven for one year.
  • Protecting against pollutants that cause asthma and other respiratory diseases, especially among the country’s most vulnerable populations — children and senior citizens.
  • Protecting against cancer-causing hazardous air pollutants.

Joining Attorney General Shapiro in filing today’s lawsuit are the Attorneys General of California, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

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