Press Release: Senate Hearing Brings Landfill Methane Emissions, Solutions Into the Spotlight

The quickest path to reducing emissions from landfills runs through the EPA, experts say

Washington, D.C. – In a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works yesterday, senators and expert witnesses emphasized the urgent need to address methane emissions from municipal landfills — an action advocacy and research groups continue to urge the Environmental Protection Agency to take.

In his opening remarks, Committee Chair Tom Carper (D-DE) noted that landfills are the third largest source of methane nationally. Because methane is a super-potent greenhouse gas, about 80 times worse in its climate-warming potential than carbon dioxide in its first 20 years, addressing methane emissions from landfills is one of the most effective ways to slow the pace of global warming in the short term.

In his expert testimony, Tom Frankiewicz of RMI emphasized viable and low-cost practices that the EPA has the authority to enact on a federal scale. The solutions — including expanded gas collection, enhanced cover practices, and comprehensive leak detection and repair — mirror what 14 environmental and public interest groups urged in a June 2023 petition to the EPA.

“Federal action is needed to ensure methane reductions are achieved at scale. The U.S. EPA is statutorily required to revisit its Clean Air Act regulations for landfills this year,” Frankiewicz testified. “The agency should meet the moment with Section 111 standards that reflect the latest best practices in methane monitoring and control, while encouraging organics diversion.”

Dr. Tia Scarpelli, Research Scientist at Carbon Mapper, shared how remote sensing technology can identify large methane emissions quickly, allowing landfill operators and officials to address leaks in a timely manner. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Scarpelli said, referring to the need for methane detection technology to be implemented on a broad scale. Current EPA regulations do not require the use of current monitoring technologies, instead relying on quarterly walking surveys and handheld methane detectors.

The environmental justice impacts of landfills were also discussed, with Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) reflecting on his personal experience growing up near a California landfill. “We bore the brunt of what landfills mean in all the communities in which they’re located,” the Senator said. “Too often, it’s soil contamination, water impacts, diesel trucks driving through neighborhoods emitting toxic exhaust, and on and on and on.” These impacts aren’t experienced equitably; 54% of landfills reporting to the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program are located within one mile of a community where more residents are people of color or considered low-income than the national average.

Calls for EPA action on landfill emissions have intensified over the past year. Just this month, 25 members of the U.S. House submitted a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, urging the agency to strengthen its New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and Emission Guidelines (EG) for municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills under section 111 of the Clean Air Act. The House letter comes after mounting advocacy from advocacy groups, local elected officials, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and former Oregon Governor Kate Brown.

At COP28, the EPA acknowledged the need to curb methane, unveiling new oil and gas regulations expected to reduce emissions by nearly 80%. However, despite increasing public pressure, methane’s enormous warming potential, and the availability of proven solutions, EPA's six-month regulatory agenda contains no mention of tackling landfill methane.

“Thank you to Chair Carper and the committee for shining a light on the urgent issue of methane emissions from landfills,” says Katherine Blauvelt, circular economy director at Industrious Labs. “Minimizing emissions from landfills is a clearly needed and straightforward step in slashing emissions and pressing the brakes on climate change. Yesterday’s witnesses shared how common-sense solutions can curb landfill methane now, and the EPA has the authority to implement these solutions at the scope and scale we need. We continue to urge EPA Administrator Regan to update federal landfill emissions rules without further delay.”