Environmental Permitting, Hazardous and Solid Waste

A Look at Title V Permits for MSW Landfills Under the Clean Air Act

The EPA must improve oversight of how states implement air emissions regulations for municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills, according to a report published by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) on July 30, 2020. The OIG serves as the EPA’s watchdog.

Landfill

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There are currently 12 landfills in Texas and Georgia that may be operating under state agencies without the proper Title V permits required under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

Decomposing landfill waste emits methane, carbon dioxide, and nonmethane organic compounds. These toxins can be harmful to public health.

The CAA and EPA regulations require:

  • “MSW landfills to report their waste capacity to the appropriate state agencies.”
  • “Large MSW landfills to obtain … ‘Title V permits’ from their state air permitting authorities.”
  • “Large MSW landfills to calculate whether their emissions will exceed regulatory levels and, if so, install emissions controls.”
  • “States to submit plans to the EPA requesting approval to implement the EPA’s MSW landfill air emissions regulations for existing MSW landfills, as well as annual progress reports.”
  • “The EPA to approve state plans or implement a federal plan.”

When Is a Title V Permit Required?

Major sources are defined as those entities that have “actual or potential emissions at or above the major source threshold for any ‘air pollutant.’” The default value for the major source threshold for any air pollutant is 100 tons per year (tpy). For those pollutants defined as “hazardous air pollutants” (HAPs), the source thresholds are “10 tons/year for a single HAP or 25 tons/year for any combination of HAP.” Additionally, “lower thresholds apply in non-attainment areas (but only for the pollutants that are in non-attainment),” according to the Agency.

MSWs with specified design capacities are defined as nonmajor sources that are subject to National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) and New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) requirements.

What Went Wrong?

Large landfills must report waste data and inform state agencies when regulatory standards on emissions are surpassed.

In Texas and Georgia, the only two states audited by the OIG, the report found state agencies responsible for issuing the Title V permits didn’t always obtain the necessary data to see if the MSW would require a Title V permit and if the emissions from the MSW were exceeding allowable levels. Additionally, “in four instances, the regulatory requirements were misinterpreted,” according to the OIG.

Absent state oversight, landfills “could operate for years without required emissions controls,” resulting in more air pollution emissions than allowed under the CAA, according to the OIG’s report.

Regarding one of the landfills in Texas, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) believed it had an existing Title V permit from 1975. However, the OIG said those previous standards were outdated and “found the landfill changed its design without updating its permit.”

Recommendations

The OIG recommended that the regional administrators require the state agencies to determine whether the 12 landfills identified in the OIG’s report should apply for a Title V permit and install emissions controls.

The OIG report recommended that the assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance “develop and implement a process to review implementation of the 2016 municipal solid waste landfill Emission Guidelines and New Source Performance Standards to provide assurance that states are effectively implementing these regulations.”

Four of the report’s seven recommendations have been addressed, and the Agency offered proposed deadlines, according to the OIG report.

Three of the recommendations for the assistant administrator for Air and Radiation remain unresolved:

  • “Develop and implement a process for the periodic review of municipal solid waste landfill design capacity information and Title V permit lists to identify municipal solid waste landfills with design capacities over the applicable threshold that have not applied for a Title V permit.”
  • “Update guidance to clarify the requirements for municipal solid waste landfills to submit initial design capacity reports, including how to:
    • Address closed municipal solid waste landfill areas and the soil used in municipal solid waste landfill daily and final covers when calculating design capacity.
    • Determine whether a municipal solid waste landfill is subject to Title V permit and nonmethane organic compound emissions reporting requirements.”
  • “Develop and implement a process to confirm that state plans approved for delegation of the 2016 municipal solid waste landfill Emission Guidelines contain all required program elements and provisions for submitting annual progress reports.”

For the first two of these recommendations, the Agency proposed revising CAA language, utilizing existing guidance and further development of the Agency’s Web-based “Regulation Navigation” tool.

The Agency agreed with the last recommendation above and provided a corrective action. However, the OIG’s report says its office does not agree that the Agency’s suggested corrective action will completely address its recommendation.

It is not clear from the OIG’s report if other states are experiencing these same compliance issues.