PDC pushes landfill-gas regs despite Trump delays


Chris Coulter, VP and COO at PDC, and George Armstrong, VP and engineer at PDC, are upbeat about continuing their efforts to capture and use landfill gas ahead of government regulations. (PHOTO BY BILL KNIGHT)

Methane is a major contributor to climate change, and worldwide, methane’s top source is natural gas, followed by cows, then you.

At least, your waste, deteriorating beneath the surface of area landfills and releasing methane and carbon dioxide (CO2).

Clean-energy advocates want alternatives to natural gas (as well as coal and oil), and scientists are studying how to help cows digest with less burping. (Regardless of exaggerated opposition to the Green New Deal, less than 10 percent of cows’ methane emissions come from farting, according to the International Livestock Research Institute).

As far as landfills, technology exists to better control their greenhouse gases (GHG) generated by decomposition. Methane is 80 times as powerful as CO2 over 20 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been examining the issue since 1991. In 1996 the EPA cited landfills as a key contributor to air pollution, and in 2016 finalized new guidelines for municipal solid-waste landfills to improve landfill-gas controls.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has stalled reforms.

Fortunately, a federal judge in May ruled that Trump’s EPA couldn’t continue delaying implementation. Further, a major area disposal company is engaging in landfill-gas controls in its three landfills and plans to step up efforts when it starts operating the Peoria City/County Landfill #3 in a few years.

“We try to stay ahead of the curve rather than be behind the curve,” said Chris Coulter, 47, PDC vice president and chief operating officer. “Generally, we try to take the long view [and] make calculated guesses about what’s coming.”

Nine states including Illinois challenged Trump’s delays, stressing the urgency.

“There is overwhelming and ever-growing evidence of the need for immediate reductions of GHG emissions,” attorneys general noted.

“It’s an effort to improve. Some of the changes are more relaxed, some more stringent,” said George Armstrong, PDC vice president and engineer responsible for designing systems.

With PDC for 25 years, Armstrong, 61, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Illinois. He said a 100-foot-deep landfill could settle 15 feet as biodegradable solid wastes degrade, release gases and lose volume. Operators deal with landfill gas through controlled-burn flaring, “direct use” (pumping to a facility for conversion to compressed natural gas (CNG) or another fuel, or using it in internal-combustion engines to generate electricity to sell to a power company.

Armstrong speculates that the Trump administration delays may have been encouraged by industry groups petitioning to reconsider the new standards “and NGOs [non-governmental organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council] suing about what they considered relaxations.”

That didn’t matter to U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam, Northern District of California, who decided that the rules should take effect.

(The current EPA says it’s reviewing Gilliam’s ruling.)

If enacted, new emission guidelines (EG) will cover 1,014 landfills constructed before July 17, 2014, including the Peoria City/County Landfill west of Edwards, and new source performance standards (NSPS) would affect 128 facilities built or reconstructed after, such as Peoria City/County Landfill #3, to be run by PDC.

“This action will achieve additional reductions in emissions of landfill gas and its components, including methane, by lowering the emissions threshold at which a landfill must install controls,” the EPA stated in 2016.

“This action also incorporates new data and information received in response to an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking … and addresses other regulatory issues including surface emissions monitoring, wellhead monitoring and the definition of landfill gas treatment system.”

Managing landfill gas can be done – and is, at PDC, which is experienced and committed.

“At Clinton Landfill [in DeWitt County], we are capturing about 1,300 standard cubic feet per minute (scfm) of landfill gas, of which 700 scfm is combusted in the two Caterpillar 3520 gensets for generating electricity, which is sold to the grid,” Armstrong says. “The rest of the landfill gas is flared.

“At Indian Creek Landfill [in Hopedale in Tazewell County], we are capturing and flaring approximately 750 scfm of landfill gas,” he continues. “At Hickory Ridge Landfill [in Baylis in Pike County], we are capturing and flaring approximately 800 scfm of landfill gas.”

Coulter adds, “The Clinton landfill sells gas to Wabash Valley Power Association and [Renewable Energy Certificates] to Ameren, and CNG that’s generated is not only used for two-thirds of our own fleet, but our Swords Avenue yard in Peoria has the only public CNG filling station between Chicago and St. Louis.”

Looking ahead, PDC is set to operate Peoria City/County Landfill’s #3 site in a few years, depending on the closing of #2, now run by Waste Management. In an agreement set a decade ago, PDC was scheduled to assume control in 2014, but #2 didn’t fill as expected.

“Things change,” Coulter says, shrugging. “Compacting got better, there’s less waste and more recycling, which is good. Now it may remain in operation until the fall of 2023.”

Among “sweeteners” in PDC’s bid to take over, the company reimbursed the City and County for their $1.8 million purchase of 300 acres for #3, said they’ll develop a gas-to-energy facility there, pledged to build a household hazardous waste facility for up to 75 tons per year, set up a “perpetual-care” trust supplementing any costs beyond the legally required closure fund for the landfill complex, and said it would pay the City and County a percentage of proceeds from landfill-gas energy sales.

“Unlike wind, landfill gas can provide a consistent and predictable amount of renewable energy regardless of external factors (such as weather),” says PDC’s summary on landfill gas management. PDC’s “Peoria City/County Landfill, Inc. is committed to beneficially using the significant energy potential of landfill gas that is generated from both Landfill #1 and the expanded landfill. Not only does harnessing this energy provide a strategic role in helping the nation reduce and eventually eliminate our dependence on foreign sources of energy, it can provide a reasonable return on investment.”

Indeed, in 2016, the EPA’s cost/benefit analysis showed “estimated climate benefits of the methane and carbon dioxide reductions in the final rules significantly outweigh costs. The rules are estimated to yield more than $8 in benefits for every dollar spent to comply. Combined climate-related benefits of the rules are valued at $512 million in 2025; combined costs are $60 million.”

Being part of a 90-year-old family company is different than a corporation concerned with shareholder returns on a quarterly basis, Coulter says.

“The household hazardous waste feature we plan is a money loser, but it’s a need, in the public interest,” he says. “It takes from the bottom line, but there’s more than the bottom line. It’s more what you do than what you say. We believe in environmental stewardship and the opportunity to develop.

“It can pay to do the right thing.

“I’m fourth generation here,” Coulter says. “We’re looking out for our legacy – not just the next generation of our family, but the next generation of every family.”

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