EPA’s Landfill Emissions Rule Emphasizes Key Role of PEs

Thursday, September 1, 2016

In another victory for licensed professional engineers and the public health, safety, and welfare, the Environmental Protection Agency included strong requirements for a PE in its final rule on emissions and compliance related to municipal solid waste landfills. In September 2015, NSPE submitted a public comment to the EPA, commending the agency for proposing new safety measures requiring a professional engineer to prepare site-specific gas collection and control system plans as part of the proposed rule. In the final rule, EPA requires that design plans continue to be prepared and approved by a PE. Specifically the rule mandates that “the state plan must include a process for state review and approval of the site-specific design plan for each gas collection and control system. The collection and control system design plan must be prepared and approved by a professional engineer.”

The rule also finalizes two criteria for when an affected source must update its design plan and submit it to the EPA administrator for approval. “A revised design plan must be submitted on the following timeline: (1) Within 90 days of expanding operations to an area not covered by the previously approved design plan; and (2) prior to installing or expanding the gas collection system in a manner other than the one described in the previous design plan. The final rule continues to require landfill owners or operators to prepare both an initial and revised design plan.”

NSPE is encouraged by the EPA’s recognition of the key role of the professional engineer in designing, approving and maintaining gas collection and control systems, which is consistent with other recent EPA rulemakings.

NSPE does note, however, that certain exemptions in this final version could water down these key requirements. Of concern is the addition of a provision that allows the EPA administrator to decide within 90 days of submission whether the plan should be submitted for review. Under the final rule, design plans must continue to be prepared and approved by a professional engineer. The landfill owner or operator must then notify the administrator that the plan is completed and provide a copy of the plan’s signature page. The administrator will now have 90 days to decide whether the plan should be submitted for review. If the administrator chooses to review, the approval process continues as outlined. However, if the administrator decides a review is not required or doesn’t respond within 90 days, the landfill owner or operator can continue to implement the plan with the recognition that they are proceeding at their own risk. If the design plan must be modified to obtain approval, the owner/operator must take any steps necessary to ensure any prior actions conform with the approved design plan. Any failure to do so could result in an enforcement action.

NSPE believes that this new provision unnecessarily weakens an otherwise prudent rulemaking. NSPE recognizes the rule is final but strongly encourages the EPA administrator to determine that all plans should be reviewed.