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Re: [greenyes] Landfills and Global Warming

You seem to be taking my posts personally which if true is regretful and for which I am sincerely sorry. My intent is to post summarial information that folks can follow from published literature so that all may be more informed as they work through the decision making process, a process that if followed fully involves scrutiny of both your reported information and that of the EPA and its sources for that matter. It is also my intent to cause thought and facilitate all-important information flow on related ideas and science. It is certainly not my intent to stifle such flow nor is my intent to say we shouldn't be recycling or composting. One need only make a few inquiries in this part of the country to see how involved in this I am but that is beside the point. In the interest of objectivity, the full flow of information, and increased environmentally responsible and informed stewardship I look forward to the publication of your report and sincerely hope that you intend to publish your findings in appropriate scientific peer-reviewed journals.

Best Regards and Respectfully,

Stephan Pollard
Environmental Dynamics Doctoral Program
University of Arkansas

Peter Anderson wrote:

I do regret that Stephen declined my suggestion that we take the detailed arguing about landfills' contribution to global warming off line and come back after we've worked through the technical points as much as we can.

Let me ask everyone's sufferance to just summarize the bottom line response to his main points, without the technical details, and indicate that anyone who wishes them can write me directly and I'll be more than happy to expand off the listserve.

   Here are Stephen's main points, and my abbreviated response:

   1. Nitrogen oxide has greater warming potential than methane.

This is true, but that has no effect on the discussion because all sources of greenhouse gases (GHG) are converted to a carbon-equivalent basis.

2. Methane's total contribution to greenhouse gases on a carbon-equivalent basis is less than 10% of total manmade gases, and landfills are only a fraction of that.

This generally describes EPA's estimates, but that is precisely the point which I am making. EPA's estimates are grossly wrong, and that can be appreciated by a very simple poke under the hood, as Ross Perot used to say.

Today's dry tomb landfills with gas collection cannot possibly achieve a lifetime rate of 75% efficiency as the agency ASSUMES without any factual basis whatsever, because the collection systems are not installed or functioning 56% of the time and are only marginally functional another 12% of the time. To achieve a lifetime rate of 75%, when these downtimes are accounted for, the gas collection equipment would have to capture 150% of the gas when it is operating. That is quite an engineering feat, even for the unique scientific skills this Administration has demonstrated here and in Social Security, the Budget and Iraq to transform reality on its head.

Although hard data does not exist, from that which is known, actual uncontrolled methane emissions from landfills are between 4.1 and 4.5 times the 193 Tg CO2 Equiv. estimated by EPA, as will be documented in an upcoming 90 page report we are in the process of completing.

Bottom line: instead of EPA's 3.1% estimate, landfills probably are contributing between 11.3% - 12.2% to manmade greenhouse gases in the U.S. -- that's second only to fossil fuel combustion. And it's a GHG source that can be eliminated over time were landfills required to really meet environmental standards, which would increase their costs to the point were more aggressive recycling and expanded composting could outcompete disposal in the marketplace and ratchet diversion to more than 70-80% of waste generation, and remove the nettlesome decomposable fraction that rots from landfills.

Think of it, we can lope off 10-15% of the gases causing global warming, move to a more sustainable world, and save money(when long term costs are accounted for), all at the same time. Recyclers can be at the forefront of this transformative moment if we come to understand our role in making a better world and then move together to educate the public and decision makers of these facts.

3. In the future, landfills' methane emissions will decline as systems improve.

There is a small germ of truth to this, but the negative factors are not recognized and dwarf the positive ones.

Yes, new landfills tend to be larger than the average of existing landfills, and more larger landfills will be required by EPA's Landfill Air Rule to install active gas collection systems than in the past because only large landfills are covered.

However, EPA has greenlighted a second generation landfill called bioreactor landfills, and for the reasons I already outlined, bioreactors will dramatically increase near-term methane emissions. In addition, even apart from bioreactors, in recent years there has been a major shift to an ad hoc process called leachate recirculation that, for similar reasons as in bioreactors, will increase near-term uncontrolled releases.

If EPA were to accurately describe these events rather than wearing glasses so rose colored that no light of day can enter, the trend line of future estimates of gas releases from landfills would be increasing substantially, above and beyond the quadrupling needed for current estimates noted above.

4. Numerous reviewers of EPA's methodology have validated gas collection efficiency rates of 60%-90%.

I wish space -- and Greenyes's reader's time -- permitted a fuller response because so that I could document right now the following statement.

But, suffice for the moment to say, that, first, none of this involves any field measurement; second, it is all out-of-thin-air-estimates; third, EPA did everything in its power to only take such made up numbers from those with a vested interest in continuing the fictionalized analysis being employed; and fourth, when divergent views nonetheless slipped in, EPA simply restated them to pretend they said the opposite or just ignored them.

Bottom Line: There is no factual basis for a 75% capture rate and that assumed number falls on its on weight because it is a mathematical impossiblity.

5. Landfills are energy sinks that trap more greenhouse gases than they release.

Stephen presents his case in a way that discredits his position more than he needs to, to the extent readers interpret him to be saying that because garbage is temporarily buried, all that carbon is sequestered notwithstanding gas being generated whenever water enters the site.

In fact, it is true that the lignin in wood, and hence in paper products, does effectively trap a part of the carbon in our wastes.

But, that effect is already accounted for in the analysis, and the net impact does not effect the bottom line.


PS Stephen, please see me off line to see if we can at least reduce the number of outstanding issues needed to consume listserve space on.

Peter Anderson, President
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Ph: (608) 231-1100
Fax: (608) 233-0011
Cell: (608) 698-1314
eMail: anderson@no.address

-- Stephan Pollard Environmental Dynamics Doctoral Program University of Arkansas Rm 113 Ozark Hall Fayetteville, AR 72701 Tel: (479) 575-6603

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