Environmental Laws and Regulatory Compliance: What Business Owners Need to Know
You’re probably used to securing permits, licenses, and other paperwork necessary to do business in the United States. However, you may not have considered the requirements for preventing pollution and protecting natural resources. Suppose your company doesn’t have proof of compliance with certain environmental regulations. In that case, you could face bad press, high fines, and costly delays.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) creates and enforces environmental regulations for U.S. businesses. Before performing any regulated activities, your company should be aware of common federal and state environmental laws it must follow.
Environmental Regulations for Companies Under the Clean Air Act (CAA)
Businesses that perform incineration, chemical manufacturing, glass manufacturing, and different metal processing operations will likely release small air pollution particles. To protect the air we breathe and mitigate the impact of climate change, United States companies must obtain operating permits under Title V of the Clean Air Act. These permits are issued by state and local permitting authorities, and they serve as legally binding documents that outline the specific steps facilities need to take to manage and reduce their air emissions. The EPA's website has detailed information on who needs a Title V permit and a comprehensive understanding of how the Clean Air Act operates.
The EPA has the authority to monitor facilities, activities, and entities to make sure they meet the following CAA program standards:
Acid Rain Inspection
This program aims to mitigate climate change and make a positive impact on the environment and public health. It achieves this by cutting down on the sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions that produce acid rain. The program uses traditional and market-driven strategies to control air pollution. The initiative also promotes energy efficiency and finding ways to prevent pollution.
Asbestos Removal and Monitoring
The Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) program aims to reduce asbestos exposure during renovations, demolitions, and waste disposal. This program covers everything from asbestos created during mining and manufacturing to renovation, demolition, and waste disposal activities. Inspectors from the EPA, as well as state and local air programs, check out renovation and demolition sites. They ensure that the sites comply with the rules laid out in the Asbestos NESHAP standards.
The Mobile Sources Program plays a crucial role in setting emission standards for pretty much all types of vehicles and equipment, whether they're on the road or off. This program covers everything from massive engines in ships and trains to smaller ones found in lawn equipment. It also sets standards for the gasoline and diesel fuel used across the country, whether made here or imported from elsewhere.
National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP)
Section 112 of the CAA allows the EPA to set standards for the emission of hazardous air pollutants (HAP). Standards fluctuate based on the highest possible degree of HAP reduction available at the time, commonly referred to as maximum achievable control technology (MACT).
New Source Review (NSR) and Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD)
While other programs focus on revisions to existing units, NSR and NSPS depend on a company’s future actions. Sections 165 and 173 lay down certain requirements for new or modified major sources that increase the release of regulated air pollutants beyond set limits. Businesses must meet permitting conditions and install either the Best Available Control Technology (BACT) or the Lowest Achievable Emission Rate (LAER) technology to comply with these regulations. Furthermore, they must demonstrate that their operations won't lead to any violations of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
Accidental Release Prevention
Under Section 112®, owners and operators of stationary sources handling extremely hazardous substances must identify potential hazardous waste and prevent accidental releases. This includes ensuring the ongoing safety of their facilities and implementing measures to reduce the impact if an accidental release occurs.
Section 601-618 involves protecting the ozone layer—the stratosphere layer that shields all life from harmful ultraviolet rays. These regulations include labeling ozone-depleting substances (ODS), phasing out the use of ODS like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and overseeing the disposal of refrigerants.
Environmental Regulations for Companies Under the Clean Water Act (CWA)
If your business discharges wastewater into a local sewer or waterway, you may need a permit under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). This federal law plays a crucial role in pollution control for U.S. waters. The EPA regulates the following types of discharges to safeguard our waterways and protect this essential natural resource:
Municipal Wastewater Overflows and Stormwater Management
Industrial and municipal facilities that empty directly into U.S. waters risk overflows of raw sewage or stormwater flooding, threatening public health and environmental quality. In addition to requiring permits, the EPA inspects Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs) and requires adequate pretreatment to protect the public from sewer backups and water-borne illnesses.
When sewage sludge from wastewater treatment plants is treated and processed, it turns into biosolids. These offer versatile uses such as fertilizer application, recycling, or responsible disposal. This environmentally-friendly approach not only reduces waste but also supports sustainable resource management. EPA regularly inspects POTW and other industrial facilities that create, store, ship, or dispose of biosolids.
The goal of this section is to minimize harm to lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands and compensate for unavoidable loss through mitigation and restoration. Federal Agencies such as the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) enforce wetland protection compliance. State environmental agencies also have the authority to regulate activities that could lead to water pollution, shoreline erosion, and forest depletion.
Oil Spill Prevention
The EPA’s oil pollution prevention regulations mandate that owners and operators of non-transportation-related oil facilities create and implement plans to avert uncontrolled oil discharges. EPA regional personnel may conduct periodic inspections —scheduled or unannounced—to verify that these regulations are being adhered to and that our water resources are protected.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)
The Clean Water Act prohibits discharges from a CAFO to waters of the U.S. without an NPDES permit. EPA and state authorities monitor CAFOs and ensure compliance with environmental regulations in the following ways:
Inspections: The EPA and state authorities may conduct inspections of CAFO facilities randomly or in response to complaints or tips from the public. There are two main types of inspections. The first type determines if a non-permitted facility, qualifying as a CAFO, has discharged pollutants into U.S. waters. The second type checks if a permitted CAFO has maintained compliance with its NPDES permit.
Records and Reports: Permitting authorities monitor all information submitted by CAFOs, including their annual reports and nutrient management plans.
Audits and Disclosures: Any owner who has been issued an NPDES permit is responsible for keeping a CAFO compliant with the permit's conditions. Suppose a CAFO discovers its own non-compliant activities. In that case, the EPA sets forth a self-audit policy to allow the facility to disclose and correct violations.
Additional Environmental Laws and Permit Requirements for U.S. Businesses
Permits may also be required under these federal environmental regulations:
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
The RCRA establishes a comprehensive federal program for managing hazardous waste throughout its lifecycle. It covers everything from waste generation to transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal. It establishes policies for the cleanup of solid and hazardous waste, as well as programs to encourage source reduction and beneficial reuse. If your business deals with hazardous waste, it's essential to obtain your RCRA permit from either your state or the EPA regional office.
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
The TSCA gives EPA the authority to require reporting, record-keeping and testing requirements, and restrictions on certain toxic materials. Among others, TSCA covers the importation, production, use, and disposal of specific chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, radon, lead paint, and other hazardous chemical substances or compounds.
Endangered Species Act (ESA)
If your business operations impact threatened or endangered species, it's crucial to determine if you require a permit. You may need to contact 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.
Which Environmental Regulations Apply to My Business?
Determining which environmental regulations apply e to your business depends on various factors, including your industry, location, and specific activities. Automotive services, metalworkers, agricultural services, and chemical manufacturers are subject to environmental regulations. Still, they are relatively less impactful operations like painters and printers.
City, county, or state regulations often require businesses to track waste production and disposal methods and keep track of their recycling and landfill avoidance scores. These reports can help prove EPA compliance but also provide invaluable information. This information can benefit the company and strengthen its ties to the local economy.
How Can I Be Sure My Company Is Compliant With Environmental Regulations?
One of the best resources for environmental regulations and compliance is the EPA website. The EPA’s Laws & Regulations page offers a wealth of information, including resources on laws, regulations, compliance, enforcement, policy, and guidance. You can also find specific regulatory information either by topic or by sector, making it a user-friendly hub for all your environmental compliance needs.
In addition to complex federal environmental standards, you will also be expected to comply with state and local regulations. Each state’s environmental protection requirements are different, so you must check with your local environmental agency to verify that your permits are appropriate and up to date.
Even after meeting these requirements, your business is expected to keep up with advances in environmental improvement. What qualifies as BACT or LAER today might evolve over time to meet even higher standards in the future, so environmental compliance should be seen as an ongoing task headed by its own dedicated team.
Our Data-Driven Systems Help Your Business Follow Environmental Regulations
A proactive approach to environmental compliance protects the environment but also safeguards your bottom line. The most cost-effective way to ensure environmental compliance is through comprehensive waste management. By setting up practices to curb waste generation and prevent improper disposal, you can save your business from the financial burden of expensive disposal methods and hefty fines.
At Keter Environmental Services, we can help you reap the rewards of sustainability by streamlining your waste management systems and providing detailed environmental reporting. Contact us today to schedule a 30-minute demo call with a sustainability expert.