18 July 2024
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EPA Underestimates Methane Emissions from Landfills and Urban Areas

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long been tasked with monitoring and regulating greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. However, a recent study conducted by researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has revealed that the EPA may be underestimating methane emissions from landfills and urban areas. Methane, the second largest contributor to climate change behind carbon dioxide, requires accurate quantification to pinpoint its sources accurately.

Challenges in EPA’s Methane Emission Estimates

The EPA currently relies on a bottom-up accounting method to estimate methane emissions from landfills, where high-emitting facilities self-report their emissions annually. For landfills without methane capture, emissions are calculated based on the amount of waste received, assuming a certain rate of methane production over time. However, the study found discrepancies between these estimates and actual atmospheric methane observations.

High-Resolution Mapping of Methane Emissions

To address the limitations in the EPA’s methodology, the researchers combined satellite observations with an atmospheric transport model to create a high-resolution map of methane emissions. This approach allowed them to zoom in on individual landfills across the U.S. and compare their findings to the EPA estimates. The results showed that methane emissions from these facilities were significantly higher than previously thought, with some landfills exhibiting emission levels over 200% greater than EPA estimates.

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Published on: June 8, 2020 Description: presented by Pat Sullivan, SCS Engineers. Free on-demand webinar by SCS Engineers for Landfill Owners and Operators.
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Implications for Climate Change and Future Research

The implications of underestimating methane emissions are significant, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a considerable impact on global warming. The study also revealed higher methane emissions in the top methane-producing states and urban areas than previously estimated by the EPA. This discrepancy underscores the need for more accurate emission inventories and monitoring systems to address the challenges posed by methane emissions.

The research highlights the importance of improving our understanding of methane emissions from landfills and urban areas. By utilizing advanced satellite technology and atmospheric modeling, researchers can provide policymakers with more accurate data to guide effective climate change mitigation strategies. Collaborative efforts between academia, government agencies, and industry will be crucial in addressing the challenges posed by methane emissions and working towards a more sustainable future.

Links to additional Resources:

1. https://www.epa.gov/ 2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/ 3. https://www.nature.com/

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Methane emissions, Greenhouse gas

United States Environmental Protection Agency
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an independent agency of the United States government tasked with environmental protection matters. President Richard Nixon proposed the establishment of EPA on July 9, 1970; it began operation on December 2, 1970, after Nixon signed an executive order. The order establishing the EPA was...
Read more: United States Environmental Protection Agency

Methane emissions
Increasing methane emissions are a major contributor to the rising concentration of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere, and are responsible for up to one-third of near-term global heating. During 2019, about 60% (360 million tons) of methane released globally was from human activities, while natural sources contributed about 40% (230...
Read more: Methane emissions

Greenhouse gas
Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are the gases in the atmosphere that raise the surface temperature of planets such as the Earth. What distinguishes them from other gases is that they absorb the wavelengths of radiation that a planet emits, resulting in the greenhouse effect. The Earth is warmed by sunlight, causing...
Read more: Greenhouse gas

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