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Complying with the EPA's GHG reporting rule may cost some landfills nearly $5,000 this year, but if the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill becomes law, landfills may be able to earn money by providing landfill gas and selling emissions permits. Photo: © Michael Zysman | Dreamstime.com

With legislators, federal agencies, and industry debating how to limit further destruction of the earth's atmosphere, any and all related regulations are in a state of flux.

Except one: EPA's Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases (40 CFR 98) rule. The new requirement, which took effect Jan. 1, applies to just about every waste-to-energy (WTE) plant in the country — there are about 90 of them — and most landfills, even landfills that have been closed.

Although not paired with an emissions-reduction program, the results of the rule will provide the baseline from which future reduction legislation will be established. So what happens this year has far-reaching impact.

The rule requires large greenhouse-gas-producing facilities, such as municipal solid waste landfills, that produce more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to report emissions annually. The first reporting date is March 31, 2011. Operations that fail to comply may face administrative, civil, and criminal penalties.

“Our biggest problem is how fast implementation came down,” says John Skinner, executive director and CEO of the more than 8,000-member-strong Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). Although the proposed rule was published in April, facilities were reluctant to invest in monitoring equipment until after comments were submitted and requirements finalized. “The final text was supposed to be in place six months ago, but it was published in October — which gave us only 90 days to comply,” He says. “That's unbelievably difficult to do.”

To buy some time for facilities as they scramble to hire consultants and install equipment, the EPA's allowing managers to use their best available monitoring methods for the first quarter of the year. But if they won't be ready to follow all requirements by April 1, 2010, they must submit an extension request by Jan. 28.

“We estimate first-year compliance costs will be $4,876 per landfill, and subsequent-year costs to be $2,161,” says EPA Spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn. “These figures include initial planning; developing and implementing a QA/QC plan; record-keeping; calculation; operating and maintenance associated with gas collection monitoring systems and gas sampling programs; industrial management hours and administrative support; equipment associated with record-keeping; and annual costs for reporting.”

EPA doesn't have cost estimates for WTE projects, other than an annualized estimate ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $56,000/facility for stationary combustion sources. “Costs will depend on many factors, including the equipment already in place and the method used to monitor emissions,” says Milbourne.

Managers may be able to offset expenses, however, if another piece of legislation becomes law.

Sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D – Calif.) and Ed Markey (D – Mass.), the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) requires energy suppliers to produce an increasing percentage (6% by 2012; 20% by 2020) from renewable resources, and establishes a greenhouse-gases cap-and-trade program. Regulated industries would have to reduce emissions to specified targets and acquire permits for emissions. If a utility doesn't have enough permits, it can buy them or borrow future credits and pay interest on them.