Environmental law is a critical part of corporate compliance. Ignoring your responsibilities under environmental statutes and EPA regulations can lead to expensive fines and even criminal liability. Environmental compliance requires the management of environmental risks and meeting reporting obligations, among other complex responsibilities.
If your company does not already have an environmental compliance plan in place, it may help to speak with an environmental lawyer from the Priori network to identify your weaknesses. Far too many companies find themselves facing costly litigation that could have been easily avoided through proactive compliance.
Environmental Due Diligence
Establishing proper procedures and acquiring necessary permits are critical to compliance with EPA regulations. Unfortunately, getting these compliance procedures in place can be a challenge. You must consider not just the regulatory compliance issues that you must meet every day, but also relevant laws that will affect your company including those governing real estate planning, construction, shipping, and renewable power standards, among others. Any new contract, merger, or acquisition should also be assessed for potential environmental liability.
Registering with and Reporting to the EPA
If your business uses pesticides, regularly burns fuel, manufactures, imports, or emits chemicals into the air or water, or engages in a number of other protected activities that affect the environment, you must register with the EPA. The EPA will require regular reports on emissions and waste stream management procedures. Certain small businesses deemed low risk may be exempted from reporting obligations under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, but this will depend on the level of environmental risk inherent in your company’s activities.
If your business activities could affect the environment, either by emitting a pollutant into the air or water, disposing of hazardous waste, or similar actions, you will likely need an environmental permit from the EPA or a state or local regulatory body before you begin operations. As a part of your environmental due diligence, you must establish whether or not you will need any environmental permits before accidentally carrying out unlicensed activities. Otherwise, you could face serious fines and increasing difficulties securing the permits you will need.
It’s important to note that not all activities that require environmental permits are obvious. Even just registering a business in a location near a protected habitat or endangered species can require a conservation permit to ensure you won’t negatively affect wildlife.
Key Environmental Laws that Affect Most Businesses
Every business will face a host of local, state and federal environmental regulations, no matter your main activities, products and services. It’s important to follow all environmental laws, but the following are some of the most important federal statutes that will affect just about every business.
Clean Air Act
The Clean Air Act regulates air emissions, setting National Ambient Air Quality Standards, pollutant limits, and emissions thresholds. Under the Clean Air Act, all large sources of pollutants must be regularly tested and reported to the EPA. Some small sources are also regulated, including most delivery trucks.
Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act
Any time any company buys an insecticide, fungicide, or rodenticide, it must be registered with the EPA. In cases where businesses apply these chemicals themselves, at least one employee must be trained and certified to administer insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides in accordance with EPA standards. Unless you hire another company to use such chemicals on your property, you must register first, even if it is a one-time application.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulates the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste and specifies proper management and disposal of non-hazardous waste. You must get a proper RCRA permit for any potentially hazardous waste handled by your company, and you must comply with RCRA standards when disposing of all other waste. It’s important to also remember that these standards are generally only the minimum requirements that you will be held to. Local and state waste disposal regulations will also apply.
EPA Enforcement Actions
If your company is found in violation of an EPA standard or regulation, you may face an EPA enforcement action. These actions can range in severity from a cleanup enforcement action, wherein your company will only be responsible for paying for or organizing the cleanup of pollution caused by non-compliance, to a civil judicial or criminal action, wherein a court will declare you in violation and hand down either civil sanctions or criminal penalties.
How do I know all the environmental laws that apply to my business?
It’s difficult to know exactly which environmental laws and EPA regulations will apply to any given business situation. You can look on the EPA website for a comprehensive list of the major issues faced by any class of business or visit an EPA compliance center for more tailored advice. The best way to ensure compliance, however, is to consult an environmental lawyer about your unique business situation.
If my company isn’t involved in manufacturing, transporting, or otherwise manipulating products in a way that can pollute the environment, do I need to worry about EPA compliance?
Yes. Just because you don’t engage in businesses traditionally associated with having a high burden of environmental compliance doesn’t mean that no environmental issues will affect your business.