WASHINGTON, D.C. — On January 31, 2024, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing to explore the challenges and opportunities for mitigating methane emissions from landfills.
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Today, we will be discussing a topic that is a priority for many of us on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and that is reducing methane emissions from landfills and how we can do that through deploying new and innovative technologies, improving waste management, and increasing the use of existing solutions, like composting. We will also explore how addressing methane emissions can create new jobs and provide new revenue streams for landfill operators.
“Over the past two centuries, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled, and methane, as many of you know, is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. As a result, this super-pollutant is responsible for roughly a third of the global warming our planet is currently experiencing.
“That makes cleaning up methane emissions one of the fastest ways to mitigate global warming. In fact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ‘strong, rapid and sustained methane reductions’ are critical to limiting near-term warming.
“Two years ago, I traveled to Scotland for COP26 with several of our colleagues and members of our staff. That is when the United States and the European Union launched the Global Methane Pledge. This agreement represents a collective effort to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 percent over ten years.
“Today, more than 150 countries have signed onto that Pledge. More recently, I attended COP28 in Dubai with a bipartisan delegation of our colleagues led by Senator Cardin. There, governments and private industries renewed their commitments to reduce methane emissions. As an original signatory of the Global Methane Pledge and significant contributor to global methane emissions, the United States must continue to do its part to drive domestic methane reductions. In short, we must provide leadership by example.
“So, why should we focus on reducing methane emissions? To answer that question, let me begin by sharing the age-old story of Willie Sutton, who, as many of you will recall and members of our committee have heard me say before, was a notorious bank robber during the Great Depression. In fact, he robbed a lot of banks. At his trial, the judge famously asked him, ‘Mr. Sutton, why do you rob banks?’ He replied, ‘Because that’s where the money is.’ And, we can apply that same logic in today’s hearing. We have to go where the emissions are and then find ways to reduce them.
“The good news is that we are well on our way to doing just that. Thanks to the Methane Emissions Reduction Program in the Inflation Reduction Act, the United States is advancing technologies to detect and capture methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.
“Not only will these investments help us reduce emissions, but they will also create jobs while recovering wasted energy – enough to power nearly 7 million homes each year. That’s a win-win for our communities and the planet.
“For this hearing, though, we are going to focus on the next frontier of mitigating methane emissions, and that is: landfills. In other words, we’re going to ‘talk trash!’
“You may ask yourself – why are we concerned about methane emissions from landfills? Landfills – and their emissions – are largely out of sight and out of mind for most people. However, landfill methane emissions are the third largest source of methane emissions in the United States and globally.
“So, where is the methane coming from? In the United States, we send more food waste to landfills than any other material. When organic material, like food, breaks down in landfills, it creates methane. If a landfill is not equipped to capture that methane, it escapes into the atmosphere.
“As many of our colleagues know, I care deeply about finding meaningful ways to reduce our waste while promoting sustainability. To that end, I am working alongside Senator Boozman and Senator Capito to pass legislation that would strengthen our nation’s recycling and composting systems.
“While composting and waste diversion are important tools to reduce methane emissions from landfills, it’s also important that our landfills are equipped with the technology necessary to mitigate emissions for years to come.
“For example, in my home state of Delaware, the Delaware Solid Waste Authority mitigates methane emissions from their landfills with collection systems. Local businesses then use the gas that was collected to power their operations. Many landfills across the country use similar systems to capture what would otherwise be wasted energy.
“As members of our Committee have often heard me say, ‘we need to find what works and do more of that.’ And in this case, we also need to find ways to improve upon what is working. Deploying innovative methods and technologies to limit methane leakage will go a long way toward reducing landfill emissions across our country.
“Lastly, in order to fully address the problem, we must be able to identify where the largest releases of methane from landfills are occurring. In fact, over the past few years, new studies have begun to reveal the scale of the problem.
“Satellite monitoring, flyovers, and other enhanced emissions monitoring technologies are playing a growing role in identifying methane emissions from landfills. These newer detection technologies can help landfill operators quickly respond to large emission events. And, we’ll need diverse strategies to detect landfill emissions going forward, because traditional methods have been unable to produce accurate emissions data for landfills.
“Let me close by reminding everyone that if we take action to reduce landfill emissions, it would have an immediate positive impact on climate, air quality, and public health, while also creating economic opportunity across the country, especially in our rural areas.
“My hope is that today’s hearing will help us further our Committee’s understanding of how we can better detect and capture methane emissions from landfills and what strategies can keep methane-generating organic waste out of landfills in the first place.”