A dozen landfills in Georgia and Texas may be operating under state agencies without permits required under the Clean Air Act, the EPA’s internal watchdog said Thursday.
Without state oversight, landfills “could operate for years without required emissions controls,” allowing pollution to soar over federal regulatory levels, according to the report by the Office of Inspector General for the Environmental Protection Agency.
As waste in a municipal solid waste landfill decomposes it emits methane, carbon dioxide, and nonmethane organic compounds, which can harm public health and the environment. Nonmethane organic compounds are mostly toxic air pollutants for which EPA hasn’t yet updated standards.
Large landfills are required to report their waste data and inform state agencies whether their emissions surpass regulatory standards, so steps can be taken to control emission output.
But 12 landfills in Georgia and Texas may be running without those requirements. The state agencies responsible for overseeing them didn’t properly collect data to verify whether the landfills needed a Title V permit or if they were exceeding emissions levels.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality worked with the OIG during the audit “to describe the air and waste program rules” and their implementation by the state, commission spokesman Brian McGovern said.
“The TCEQ will continue to work with EPA Region 6 staff to ensure the proper implementation of our programs and confirm that the landfills in the audit are operating properly,” he told Bloomberg Environment in an email.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division disagreed with the OIG’s findings and said the one state landfill listed in the report has a design capacity below 2.5 million megagrams, which means it doesn’t require the Title V permit, according to a letter sent to the inspector general’s office.
The EPA declined to comment further on the OIG report, pointing to its response in the report, in which agreed with most of the findings and offered proposed deadlines for completing the recommendations.
Lack of EPA Verification
At four landfills, regulatory requirements were misunderstood, according to the audit. In one instance, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told a landfill it didn’t need a Title V permit because it had one from 1975. But the standards were outdated, and OIG found the landfill changed its design without updating its permit.
The EPA didn’t identify issues with how Georgia and Texas were implementing these regulatory requirements to control air pollution. The OIG said the EPA should have verified whether the states submitted required plans for approval of their regulations or annual progress reports, but the agency didn’t.
Large landfills must obtain Title V permits, which are “legally enforceable documents designed to improve compliance by clarifying what facilities must do to control air pollution,” according to the EPA’s website. Most of these permits are issued by state or local agencies, with only a few coming from the EPA.
Overall, the watchdog recommended EPA require Georgia and Texas to identify whether the 12 landfills need to obtain Title V permits and enforce emissions controls. The EPA agreed with four of the seven recommendations.
—With assistance from Amena H. Saiyid, Chris Marr and Paul Stinson.