Environmental Law: Regulations Every Business Should Know

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By Valerie Pinkerton
| Legal Basics

When starting your business, there is a long checklist of tasks that you need to complete before opening your doors. After choosing the proper business entity form, registering your business, obtaining your federal tax identification number and determining your state tax obligations, you’ll need to consider what federal and state licenses and permits your business needs. 

Among these necessary licenses and permits are those that will ensure you are in compliance with federal environmental regulations. From substances regulated under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, the alphabet soup of environmental law can be overwhelming!

Business-Startups

Environmental Regulations for Businesses

The Environmental Protection Agency and state environmental agencies enforce the environmental regulations that apply to businesses. Although it may be obvious that businesses involved in automotive services, metal work, paints and coatings, agricultural services, and chemical production are subject to environmental regulations, other more innocuous ones, such as dry-cleaners and printers, are as well.

It is best to talk with a lawyer to ensure your business complies with any relevant regulations and avoids environmental legal pitfalls. For example, establishing practices to prevent waste generation or improper disposal is the most cost-effective way to achieve environmental compliance, as you will save your business the expenses associated with tracking waste streams, costly disposal methods, and, in the worst case scenario, significant fines.

This blog post will review the categories of regulations that may be applicable to your business, so you can avoid costly problems down the road.

Commonly Required Federal Permits

Before you can engage in certain regulated activities through your business, such as discharging a pollutant, you may be required to obtain a permit. Permits may be required under the following federal environmental laws:

Clean Air Act (CAA):

Some smaller sources of air pollution are required to obtain operating permits under Title V of the Clean Air Act. These sources include businesses that involve incineration units, chemical manufacturing, glass manufacturing, and various types of metal processing, among others. Most permits are issued by state and local permitting authorities, and are legally-enforceable documents that clarify what facilities have to do to control their air emissions. You can find more information about who has to obtain a Title V permit and how the Clean Air Act works on the EPA’s website. A lawyer can help you decipher what type of source your business is, what emissions threshold you need to meet, and how to acquire any necessary permits. 

Clean-Water-Act

Clean Water Act (CWA):

If your business emits water pollution or operates near wetlands, you may need to meet specific federal, state, and local permit requirements. 

  • Section 404 - Wetlands The Army Corps of Engineers regulates the discharge of dredged or fill materials into U.S. waters. State environmental agencies may also regulate activities affecting water pollution, shoreline management, and forest management. You should also be mindful of any local zoning ordinances regulating your business’s proximity to a wetland. 
  • Section 402 - National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System If your business discharges wastewater to surface water or a municipal sewer, or if you experience stormwater runoff from your facility during rain events, you may need to apply for an NPDES permit.

You can find more information about the Clean Water Act on EPA’s website, but working with an attorney will help you navigate the multiple levels of ordinances and permit requirements that apply to your business’s activities

Endangered Species Act (ESA):

If the activities of your business affect threatened or endangered species, you may need a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), or your state’s wildlife agency. You can find more information about complying with the ESA on the FWS website. An environmental attorney can also assist you in understanding what locally listed species could mean for your company. 

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA):

RCRA establishes a federal program to manage hazardous waste from cradle to grave, and includes regulations for generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous wastes. If your business involves hazardous waste, you will need a RCRA permit from your state or EPA regional office. For more information about RCRA, consult the EPA guide for small businesses on managing your hazardous waste or EPA’s website on RCRA Guidance, Policy and Resources. Again, a legal expert can guide you in understanding how to implement the appropriate architecture of documentation and record keeping to keep your company in compliance with permit requirements.

Compliance

Compliance Assistance Resources

The EPA website is a great resource if you have general questions about environmental regulations, or need guidance on how to bring your business into compliance.

However, federal environmental law is extremely complex. An attorney will easily break down dense legal jargon into clear tasks for your company and help you ensure your business’s compliance. Useful EPA references to get you started include: 

  • EPA’s Laws & Regulations page includes links for more information about laws, regulations, compliance and enforcement, and policy and guidance. You can also search for regulatory information by topic or by sector.
  •  EPA’s Small Business Programs page provides useful links to support for small businesses, including the Asbestos and Small Business Ombudsman.
  • EPA’s Retail Industry Portal provides resources to help prevent and resolve environmental issues at retail establishments.

Remember that you will need to be in compliance with both state and federal regulations. Consult your state’s environmental agency to verify that you have the appropriate permits and have taken any necessary environmental precautions. State departments of the environment, such as New York’s, will provide state-specific guidance and policy documents to help you understand your business’s legal needs. Each state’s regulations may be slightly different, so take care to check your specific state’s requirements.

To be sure you are satisfying every requirement of any applicable environmental regulations, it is best to work with a lawyer with strong experience in this area. Protect your business and get started with a Priori attorney today. 

If you’d like to move beyond compliance and investigate opportunities to green your workplace, EPA’s website also provides access to many resources for corporate environmental stewardship. A lawyer can help you formalize your actions into a company sustainability policy, as well as explore various national green certification programs. 

 

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