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Justice News

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Settlement with Honolulu to Prevent Hazardous Air Emissions at Kapaa Landfill

The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a settlement with the city and county of Honolulu to resolve air violations at its closed Kapaa Landfill in Kailua, Oahu, by requiring the city and county of Honolulu to pay a civil penalty of $875,000 and build a $16.1 million solar power system.  This environmental project involves the installation of photovoltaic arrays on more than 250,000 square feet of buildings and open space area at the city’s waste-to-energy H-POWER (Honolulu Program of Waste Energy Recovery) facility by 2020.

Because decomposing refuse in a large landfill generates hazardous air pollutants such as benzene, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, ethylene dichloride, perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride and vinylidene chloride, the federal Clean Air Act requires a system to collect and control the gases.  The city failed to install and operate the gas collection and control system by its deadline in 2002.  The gas collection and control system at the landfill was not in place until April 2013 and is currently operational.

“This settlement holds Honolulu accountable for past failures to collect and control toxic gases and greenhouse gas emissions from the Kapaa Landfill, but it also lays the foundation for better environmental stewardship in the future,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “Residents who call Oahu home will realize the benefits of this agreement – which includes clean solar power production and reduced reliance on fossil fuels – for many years to come.”  

“Air emissions from a closed landfill are toxic and can contribute to global warming,” said Administrator Jared Blumenfeld of EPA for the Pacific Southwest.  “If the proper systems had been in place at the landfill, over 343,000 tons of methane and 6,800 tons of hazardous air pollutants and volatile organics, would not have escaped to the atmosphere.”

Honolulu is the owner/operator of the landfill encompassing approximately 215 acres that includes the smaller Kalaheo Landfill.  The landfill first received solid waste in 1969 and closed in May 1997.  From 1990 to 2002, Gas Recovery Systems Inc. installed and operated a gas collection system and turbine on behalf of the city for the generation of electric energy.  Gas Recovery Systems Inc. ceased operation of the gas turbine due to its failure in 2002.

Effective gas controls at a landfill reduce the release of these hazardous gases and poorly controlled gas.  Many air pollutants identified in landfill gas are either known or suspected carcinogens.  Air emissions of methane from landfills can also contribute to global methane emissions, a greenhouse gas with about 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

The solar panels will be installed at the city’s H-POWER facility in Campbell Industrial Park.  The new solar panels will have a capacity of 3.1 megawatts and will generate over five million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, enough to power 800 Oahu households on average.  This action will lead to less reliance on fossil fuels on Oahu.

Today’s proposed Clean Air Act consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court in Hawaii, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval and is now available for review at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html

For more information about Clean Air Act landfill regulations, please visit the EPA’s web site at www.epa.gov/outreach/lmop/faq/landfill-gas.html

Press Release Number: 
Updated May 12, 2015