Joined by two residents of a community where emissions from landfills have forced them to live in the “center of a toxic wasteland,” more than a dozen environmental and community advocacy groups on Thursday filed a petition with the Biden administration calling for a number of specific regulations to address the United States’ third-largest source of methane pollution.
A month after the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) published a report detailing how the nation’s roughly 1,100 city and county landfills emitted at least 3.7 million metric tons of methane in 2021, the group was joined by the Sierra Club, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), and several other organizations to demand the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take action.
Javian Baker and Gilda Hagan-Brown, residents of Waggaman, Louisiana, which is adjacent to a landfill, also joined the petition. The emissions coming from the landfill mean that residents’ “right to a healthy, safe and clean environment [is] jeopardized,” said Hagan-Brown in a statement, and that their “aspirations have been destroyed.”
“The foul gassy smell lurking in our neighborhood inhibits me from bringing my fifteen-month-old outside to play,” said Baker. “This petition offers a glimpse of hope when politicians in Jefferson Parish and landfill officials have yet to get to the root of the problem impacting our predominately Black community.”
Only livestock and natural gas cause more methane emissions than landfills in the U.S., the petitioners noted. Methane has been identified by international climate experts as a key driver of planetary heating. It is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its first two decades in the atmosphere and 28 times more potent over a 100-year period. Nearly 12% of the United States’ contribution to climate change comes from methane emissions, The Hill reported Thursday.
The yearly methane emissions from landfills are equivalent to 295 million metric tons of greenhouse gases over 20-year period, or 66 million gasoline-powered vehicles over a year.
Edwin LaMair, attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, noted that technological advances in recent years, including the ability to conduct aerial surveys of methane emissions at landfills, offer the EPA “an enormous opportunity to update and strengthen its standards for landfill pollution.”
“Landfill pollution poses serious public health threats, and protective landfill standards are an urgently needed addition to other significant actions EPA has recently taken to reduce climate-destabilizing and health-harming pollution,” said LaMair.
In its report, Trashing the Climate, last month, EIP noted that landfills contribute to methane emissions mainly due to rotting food waste. Americans throw away roughly 40% of their food and food waste has soared in the last three decades.
The petition calls on the EPA to encourage composting and waste reduction to reduce landfill methane emissions.
The Rocky Mountain Institute, which was not involved in the petition, explained on social media earlier this week how diverting waste from landfills not only reduces emissions, but also allows the waste to be converted into valuable resources for communities.
The most direct way to fight methane emissions?— RMI (@RockyMtnInst) June 20, 2023
Keep organic matter out of landfills in the first place. 👋
This can be done through upstream methods like reducing food waste and donating surplus, and downstream efforts to recycle the remaining organic waste. pic.twitter.com/uOJY90Ehg2
The groups on Wednesday also called on the EPA to:
- Require more landfills to install gas collection and control systems, including pipes that collect methane from garbage and covering materials, such as soil, that help absorb and destroy methane;
- Require flares that burn methane at landfills to have at least a 99% destruction efficiency, meaning they burn up almost all of the pollution;
- Require landfills to install gas capture systems within one year after the dumping of waste; and
- Impose better requirements for direct measurement of methane and support the development of equipment that can continuously monitor landfill emissions.
The petition also pointed out that many of the country’s landfills are situated in predominantly low-income towns and communities of color.
“Virginia is home to eight ‘mega-landfills,’ many of which are sited in low-income communities of color,” said Anne Havemann, general counsel for CCAN. “These landfills emit huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, but have not received the attention they deserve for all the pollution they release. We look forward to EPA taking action on this under-the-radar issue.”
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