You may be a very small business—a one man show even—but that doesn’t exempt you from complying with the country’s environmental laws. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental agencies levy dozens of environmental regulations that apply to small businesses like yours.
Bottom line: If through your business practices you will release pollutants into the air, land, water or sewers, or if you will be storing, transmitting or disposing of hazardous wastes, you will likely need an environmental permit.
It is critical that you know how your business affects the environment and that you are compliant with environmental laws. Failure to do so can land you in court or break the bank as you cover costly lawsuits and penalties. You may even be prosecuted for offenses committed by your company, and you won’t be able to claim ignorance of the law as your defense. Make sure you understand your state laws for:
Managing air pollution
The Clean Air Act was created to cut down on air pollution. While the law typically applies to larger industrial and commercial businesses, if your business emits any impurities into the air, including odors, volatile organic compounds, smoke, dust, gases, fumes and solid particles, you may need to obtain permits. In those permits, you will likely need to include information on which pollutants you are releasing and how much, along with the steps you are taking to reduce the pollution and how you to plan to measure and report what your business emits.
If the type or quantity of pollutant emissions is under a specific level, you may not need to obtain a permit. For example, in several Colorado counties, auto body shops with emissions less than one ton per year are permit exempt. Remember, all permits are issued at the state level, so check here to learn what is required in your state.
Ensuring the safe management of hazardous wastes
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permits are authorized by counties, states or EPA Regional Offices to ensure the safe treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous materials – the most common of which include oil, solvents, paint, syringes, blood and medical waste. The EPA also offers comprehensive Hazardous Waste Listings. Hundreds of items are listed; review it carefully to ensure that you are properly disposing of any listed materials you use for business purposes.
The regulations that apply to you will largely depend on how much waste you generate each month. Again, regulations are issued at the state level, so confirm the rules in your area. However, laws typically require you to identify any hazardous wastes that you generate, to store that material in secure drum containers and prohibit you from accumulating more than 2,200 pounds of hazardous material on your property at any time. Additionally, you will likely need to hire a licensed special waste hauler to transport your hazardous waste to a facility permitted to receive and dispose of hazardous waste.
Protecting the wetlands
Wetlands include swamps, marshes and bogs and are often found alongside waterways and in flood plains. However, some have no apparent connection to surface water, like rivers, lakes or the ocean, but they do have critical groundwater connections. If you’ve set up shop in or near the wetlands, you may need to obtain permits from federal, state and local governments—especially if you will discharge any kind of pollutant near a wetland. Some states require you to obtain permits if you will withdraw water from the wetlands for any reason.
In many states, excavating or placing any material in low areas or wetlands requires a permit, so for example, if you are planning to build near a wetland, you will need to obtain a permit. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers an interactive map that shows you where all of the wetlands are located in the U.S. Check it out, and if you are unsure about anything, contact your local government about guidelines in your area.
Saving endangered species
The Endangered Species Act protects endangered species and prohibits activities—harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing or collecting—that threaten those species. So if you plan to build your retail space in an area where an obscure endangered flower, insect or frog dwells, you could meet some resistance. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service can authorize a permit. Some activities may also require a state permit, so contact your state wildlife agency for additional information.