An industrial vehicle drives on top of a mound of waste at a landfill.

Landfill Methane Emissions

The atmos­pher­ic warm­ing poten­tial of methane gas is rough­ly 28 times that of car­bon diox­ide, based on its lifes­pan and abil­i­ty to absorb ener­gy. Munic­i­pal land­fills are the third largest source of human-relat­ed methane emis­sions nation­al­ly. In August 2016, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) issued a final rule to reduce methane emis­sions from munic­i­pal land­fills; it went into effect in Octo­ber 2016

2016 Rule

2017-2021

  • March 2018

    In March 2018, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra along with attor­neys gen­er­al from six oth­er states sent a 60-day notice of intent to sue to the EPA for its fail­ure to enforce the land­fill methane regulation.

  • May 2018

    Fol­low­ing the expi­ra­tion of the 60-day notice peri­od, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra and attor­neys gen­er­al from sev­en oth­er states filed a law­suit to com­pel the EPA to imple­ment and enforce the land­fill methane reg­u­la­tion. The suit is based on the EPA’s fail­ure to (1) respond by Sep­tem­ber 30, 2017 to states that time­ly sub­mit­ted plans to imple­ment the reg­u­la­tion; and (2) impose fed­er­al plans on non-com­ply­ing states by Novem­ber 302017.

  • Decem­ber 2018

    In Decem­ber 2018, a fed­er­al dis­trict judge in Cal­i­for­nia denied EPA’s motion to dis­miss the law­suit, allow­ing the lit­i­ga­tion over the EPA’s fail­ure to imple­ment and enforce the 2016 rule to continue. 

  • Jan­u­ary 2019

    In Jan­u­ary 2019, a coali­tion of attor­neys gen­er­al and envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions filed a motion for sum­ma­ry judg­ment, insist­ing that the court instruct the EPA to per­form its nondis­cre­tionary duty and enforce the 2016 rule.

  • May 2019

    The fed­er­al dis­trict court judge in Cal­i­for­nia, in May 2019, sided with the attor­neys gen­er­al in rul­ing on their motion for sum­ma­ry judg­ment. The court found that EPA had failed to com­ply with its nondis­cre­tionary duty to imple­ment the August 2016 final rule as required by the Clean Air Act. The court issued an injunc­tion order­ing the EPA to act on time­ly sub­mit­ted state imple­men­ta­tion plans by Sep­tem­ber 6, 2019 and final­ize a fed­er­al plan for non-com­ply­ing states by Novem­ber 62019.

  • June-July 2019

    In June and July 2019 in response to the May 2019 Cal­i­for­nia fed­er­al dis­trict court rul­ing, the EPA pro­posed accept­ing the imple­men­ta­tion plans sub­mit­ted by New Mex­i­co, West Vir­ginia, Delaware and Ari­zona for com­pli­ance with the August 2016 land­fill methane emis­sions rule. The EPA pro­posed par­tial­ly approv­ing and par­tial­ly deny­ing Cal­i­for­nias state imple­men­ta­tion plan.

  • August 2019

    Ini­tial­ly, the EPA act­ed as if it intend­ed to com­ply with the May 2019 order in releas­ing in August 2019 its pro­posed fed­er­al com­pli­ance plan for non-com­ply­ing states. But just four days lat­er, the agency extend­ed the dead­line for states to sub­mit their com­pli­ance plans to August 29, 2019 (see 2019 Rule” below). Then on that same day, rely­ing on a pro­vi­sion in the Afford­able Clean Ener­gy rule that requires the EPA to issue a fed­er­al com­pli­ance plan with­in two years of the sub­mit­tal of a state com­pli­ance plan, the EPA filed a motion in the Cal­i­for­nia fed­er­al dis­trict court lit­i­ga­tion argu­ing that the agency is not required to issue a fed­er­al com­pli­ance plan until August 30, 2021. The motion thus request­ed that the Cal­i­for­nia fed­er­al dis­trict court amend its May 2019 order and vacate the require­ment that the EPA pro­mul­gate a fed­er­al com­pli­ance plan by Novem­ber 62019.

  • Novem­ber 2019

    In Novem­ber 2019, the Cal­i­for­nia fed­er­al dis­trict court sided with the attor­neys gen­er­al in deny­ing the EPA’s motion. The dis­trict court found that the legal pre­req­ui­sites for amend­ing the May 2019 order were not met. The agency had undis­put­ed­ly vio­lat­ed its respon­si­bil­i­ty to imple­ment the August 2016 final rule by issu­ing a new final rule to reset its non-dis­cre­tionary dead­line, rather than rem­e­dy the vio­la­tion that the court iden­ti­fied in its May 2019 order.

  • Novem­ber 2019

    In Novem­ber 2019, the EPA filed a motion to stay the court’s order from ear­li­er that month deny­ing the EPA’s August 2019 motion pend­ing appeal of the denial to the Ninth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals. The fol­low­ing month, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra led a coali­tion of eight attor­neys gen­er­al in oppos­ing the agency’s motion for stay pend­ing appeal. 

  • Decem­ber 2019

    The EPA filed its notice of appeal to the Ninth Cir­cuit lat­er in Decem­ber 2019 before the fed­er­al dis­trict court in Cal­i­for­nia denied the agency’s motion for a stay pend­ing appeal as the court found that the EPA had not sat­is­fied the fac­tors nec­es­sary for secur­ing a stay.

  • Jan­u­ary 2020

    In Jan­u­ary 2020, the Ninth Cir­cuit issued an order grant­i­ng the EPA’s motion for stay pend­ing appeal. The next month, the EPA filed its open­ing brief in the Ninth Cir­cuit appeal of the fed­er­al dis­trict court’s Novem­ber 2019 rul­ing deny­ing the EPA’s August 2019 motion that the dis­trict court should amend its May 2019 order and vacate the require­ment that the EPA pro­mul­gate a fed­er­al com­pli­ance plan by Novem­ber 6, 2019. In March 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra led the coali­tion of attor­neys gen­er­al in part­ner­ing with the envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions in fil­ing its brief in the appel­late lit­i­ga­tion, not­ing that the dis­trict court applied the cor­rect legal stan­dard in its Novem­ber 2019 rul­ing and that the court had not abused its dis­cre­tion in deny­ing the EPA’s request­ed relief.

  • July 2020

    Oral argu­ments were held in the lit­i­ga­tion in July 2020.

  • Octo­ber 2020

    In Octo­ber 2020, the Ninth Cir­cuit released its deci­sion, revers­ing the Cal­i­for­nia fed­er­al dis­trict court’s rul­ing. The Ninth Cir­cuit found that the dis­trict court had abused its dis­cre­tion in deny­ing EPA’s August 2019 motion that the agency not be required to issue a fed­er­al com­pli­ance plan until August 30, 2021. The appel­late court held that when a dis­trict court reviews an injunc­tion — the May 2019 order here — based sole­ly on law that has since been altered to per­mit what was pre­vi­ous­ly for­bid­den, it is an abuse of dis­cre­tion to refuse to mod­i­fy the injunc­tion in light of the changed law. The Ninth Cir­cuit remand­ed the mat­ter to the dis­trict court to mod­i­fy the injunc­tion con­sis­tent with the Ninth Circuit’s opinion.

  • Decem­ber 2020

    Back in the fed­er­al dis­trict court in Cal­i­for­nia, in Decem­ber 2020, the coali­tion of attor­neys gen­er­al and an envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion filed a motion for a stay pend­ing res­o­lu­tion of the relat­ed D.C. Cir­cuit pro­ceed­ing. Specif­i­cal­ly, the plain­tiffs request­ed that the court stay — rather than vacate — its injunc­tion against the EPA until the D.C. Cir­cuit com­pletes its review of the EPA’s 2019 rule (below), which pushed back the dead­line for states to sub­mit com­pli­ance plans until August 2019.

2019 Rule

2017-2021

  • Octo­ber 2018

    In Octo­ber 2018, the EPA pub­lished a pro­posed rule that would push back the dead­line for states to sub­mit their plans to com­ply with the Octo­ber 2016 rule to reduce methane emis­sions from land­fills. Orig­i­nal­ly states had to sub­mit com­pli­ance plans by May 30, 2017 – but the EPA did not enforce that require­ment – and under the pro­pos­al states would not be required to sub­mit com­pli­ance plans until August 292019.

  • Novem­ber 2018

    In Novem­ber 2018, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Mary­land Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bri­an Frosh tes­ti­fied in oppo­si­tion to the EPA’s land­fill methane emis­sions pro­posed delay rule at the pub­lic hear­ing on the pro­pos­al. The tes­ti­mo­ny not­ed that the EPA had pro­vid­ed no legal basis for jus­ti­fy­ing an extend­ed, addi­tion­al delay on top of its ongo­ing fail­ure to enforce the August 2016 rule.

  • Jan­u­ary 2019

    In Jan­u­ary 2019, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra filed com­ments on the pro­posed delay rule on behalf of a coali­tion of nine attor­neys gen­er­al. The com­ments not­ed that the pro­pos­al is unlaw­ful because it vio­lates the EPA’s respon­si­bil­i­ty under the Clean Air Act to reduce emis­sions that endan­ger human health and the envi­ron­ment as land­fills are the third largest source of methane, a potent cli­mate change-caus­ing green­house gas. The attor­neys gen­er­al also point­ed out that the EPA failed to pro­vide a rea­soned jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for delay­ing imple­men­ta­tion of the land­fill methane emis­sions rule.

  • August 2019

    In August 2019, the EPA final­ized its Octo­ber 2018 pro­pos­al, push­ing back the dead­line for states to sub­mit their own state com­pli­ance plans to the EPA until August 292019.

  • Octo­ber 2019

    In Octo­ber 2019, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra led eight states in fil­ing a peti­tion for review in the D.C. Cir­cuit Court of Appeals, chal­leng­ing the August 2019 rule push­ing the dead­line for states to sub­mit their com­pli­ance plans to the EPA until August 292019

  • August 2020

    In August 2020, after the law­suit had been con­sol­i­dat­ed with oth­er pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion chal­leng­ing the August 2019 rule, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra led the state coali­tion in part­ner­ing with the Envi­ron­men­tal Defense Fund to file the peti­tion­ers’ joint proof brief. The brief not­ed that the August 2019 rule vio­lates the Clean Air Act in fail­ing to take swift and aggres­sive action to reduce harm­ful emis­sions by extend­ing the dead­lines for com­ply­ing with the EPA’s rules for lim­it­ing methane pol­lu­tion from land­fills. After the change in admin­is­tra­tion, the Biden admin­is­tra­tion filed a motion for vol­un­tary vacatur and remand, which the court granted.