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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental agencies regulate the impact of businesses on the environment. The EPA develops and enforces regulations that implement environmental laws enacted by Congress. Likewise, state agencies enforce regulations that implement laws enacted by the state legislature.
There are dozens of environmental regulations that apply to small businesses. The EPA and other agencies help small businesses understand their specific requirements by publishing plain-language guides that explain actions business owners must take to comply with federal regulations. Similarly, most state governments provide similar guidance for laws enforced by state environmental agencies.
This guide provides a collection of resources available from the federal government that help businesses understand their responsibilities under the nation's environmental laws.
Some environmental laws require you to obtain an environmental permit before you can emit or discharge a pollutant into the air or water, dispose of hazardous waste, or engage in certain regulated activities. Permits are also used by federal, state and local government agencies to implement environmental laws intended to protect specific types of resources such as wetlands or endangered species. Most environmental permits are issued by state governments.
Commonly Required Permits
The following are permits that are often required, along with explanations of compliance requirements.
Clean Air Act Permits: Most large sources and some smaller sources of air pollution are required to obtain operating permits required by Title V of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Most Title V permits are issued by state and local permitting authorities and are often called Part 70 permits because the regulations that establish minimum standards for state permit programs are found in 40 CFR Part 70. For more information on Clean Air Permits, read the Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act, visit the EPA Web Page on Air Permits or read the answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Permits.
Endangered Species: The Endangered Species Act, with some exceptions, prohibits activities affecting threatened and endangered species unless authorized by a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service. Some activities may also require a state permit. Contact your state wildlife agency for additional information.
Wetlands: If you work in or near wetlands, federal, state, and local governments may all have specific permit requirements. At the federal level, the Army Corps of Engineers regulates the discharge of dredged or fill materials into U.S. waters, including wetlands, under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act; and for those states without EPA permit authorization authority, the EPA issues permits for the discharge of pollutants, including waste water and storm water, from a point source pursuant to Section 402 of the Clean Water Act. State environmental agencies regulate wetlands under various laws such as those pertaining to water pollution, shoreline management and forest practices. Local governments regulate wetlands primarily through zoning and similar ordinances.
RCRA Permits: Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Permits are designed to help ensure the safe treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous wastes. Permits are issued by authorized states or by EPA Regional Offices. For more information, read Hazardous Waste Permitting Process: A Citizens Guide, use EPA's RCRA Training Module - "Introduction to Permits and Interim Status"- or visit the EPA RCRA Permits and Permitting Web Page.
Environmental Compliance Resources
EPA Small Business Gateway
Provides the EPA's gateway to environmental information and contacts for small businesses.
Environment Compliance FAQs for Small Businesses
Lists answers to frequently asked questions about complying with environmental regulations enforced by the EPA.
Small Business Compliance and Enforcement
Offers information on Small Business Compliance with the Environmental Statutes and the Compliance Incentives.
Small Business Environmental Home Page
Helps small businesses access environmental compliance and pollution prevention information.
State-by-State Resource Locator
Gives a directory of state contacts to help industry comply with environmental regulations.
Statutes and Regulations by Environmental Topic
Provides information on environmental regulations as they relate to individual environmental topics.
Industry and Sector Information
Compliance Assistance Centers
Gives access to assistance centers that are sponsored by the EPA to provide comprehensive, easy-to-understand environmental compliance information, tools and best practices advice targeted specifically to industry sectors.
Environmental Compliance: Industry Sector Guides
Lists a directory of compliance assistance resources covering specific industry sectors.
Statues and Regulations by Business Sector
Provides information to specific business sectors on the environmental statutes and regulations that affect businesses within their field.