Environmental Permits and Licenses

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 What Are Environmental Permits and Licenses?

You may need to obtain various permits or licenses to set up or operate a business. You may need permits based on your industry and how and where you operate. Some of these permits are specifically designed to regulate environmental impacts.

The scope of an environmental license may include emissions, disposal, or use of certain materials or substances. In general, these licenses function to regulate pollution or prevent the destruction of natural resources.

What Do Business License Laws Regulate?

Local, state, and federal license laws must be followed by businesses. Businesses are often required to obtain licenses to conduct certain activities. Almost all laws that govern business licensing are designed to protect the public’s health, safety, and quality of services.

Business license laws govern the following aspects of business operations:

  • Opening and closing times for the business;
  • Limitations on the maximum number of patrons that may be in the building at any one time;
  • Limitations on activities and substances that may cause harm to the environment;
  • Serving and selling food and drinks, especially alcoholic beverages;
  • Restrictions associated with city ordinances, such as permissible noise levels; and
  • Permissible activities within city zoning laws.

Several of these regulations are directly related to the business’ operating license. Small business licenses, for example, may only be used in designated areas of a city or town.

Who Issues Environmental Licenses and Permits?

You usually need an environmental license from the city, county, or state where you operate. Furthermore, you may live in an area requiring regional agencies or district permits. Depending on the region, these agencies might regulate air quality, groundwater, or other environmental aspects.

Permits may also be required from the federal government, particularly in the case of navigable waters, federal and tribal lands, and transportation.

What Types of Environmental Licenses Are There?

At all levels of government, environmental licenses cover a variety of activities. It depends on the industry and activities of your business whether you need one.

The following are some of the most common licenses:

  • Water Discharge and Contamination: Industries that release waste into stormwater may be required to obtain permits that regulate how contaminated water is treated before it is released into storm drains. Any activity that could contaminate groundwater may also be regulated through permits.
  • Hazardous Materials: Permits and licenses may be required for the transport, storage, treatment, handling, or disposal of hazardous waste or other materials. Local agencies may also require a permit for yearly inspections of sites that store or produce hazardous materials.
  • Air Pollution and Emissions: To regulate air quality and pollution, businesses may be required to obtain a license to operate or install equipment or to use certain solvents or chemical processes. This helps regulate air quality and pollution rates.
  • Environmental Protection Agency Identification Numbers: Your state may require registration from businesses that produce, transport, or dispose of hazardous waste. If your business generates a large amount of waste, you might also be required to register with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

What Are the Penalties for Not Having a License?

It is possible to violate a state, local, or federal law if you engage in activities that require a license or permit. In addition to criminal prosecution, such violations may incur severe monetary penalties.

Regulating Environmental Law Issues

Environmental laws vary from state to state and from federal to state. Congress authorizes many federal agencies to investigate and enforce environmental regulations and laws. In most cases, the federal EPA investigates and enforces federal environmental laws.

Many states have environmental laws specific to their regional needs, and state agencies enforce those laws.

Here are just a few environmental provisions:

  • The Clean Water Act: Congress passed the Clean Water Act to regulate and prosecute those who pollute the water. Specifically, the Clean Water Act makes it illegal to discharge pollutants into any navigable water without a special permit. The EPA and private citizens can prosecute individuals or businesses for discharging pollutants into water.
  • The Clean Air Act: Congress passed the Clean Air Act to regulate air emissions from certain sources. The EPA has set various standards for acceptable emissions from these sources. The EPA has set air emission guidelines for various regions throughout the country.
  • Hazardous Cleanup (CERCLA): If environmental hazards on the property require a cleanup, present and past owners can be held responsible for the cleanup costs under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Under CERCLA, a federal superfund was created to control and clean up hazardous waste sites, spills, and other polluted lands.
  • Innocent Owner: CERCLA offers an innocent owner defense. Under CERCLA, if an owner made all reasonable inquiries into the past use of the land and did not find anything that would make her think that the land may have been the site of a hazardous waste spill, disposal, or accident, a court will not find the owner liable for the cleanup.

Typical environmental violations include:

  • Intentional dumping of toxic substances without proper permits
  • Unknown leakage of toxic substances
  • Failure to maintain facilities at legal and environmental levels
  • Deliberate falsification of environmental reports

If You Violate Environmental Laws, Can You Be Fined or Convicted?

This answer depends on:

  • Whenever you discharge an illegal amount of a toxic substance into the air, water, or soil, which poses a significant threat of harm to people, property, or the environment
  • If the pollution or other environmental violation was done intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently

You could not be prosecuted for these violations if they occurred more than five years ago due to a 5-year statute of limitations.

What If a Business Violates Licensing Laws? What If My Business License is Revoked or Suspended?

Failure to obtain or maintain a valid license when required can have various legal consequences.

Among them are, but are not limited to:

  • Statutorily determined fines;
  • Suspension of business rights;
  • Overall loss of operating privileges; or
  • In especially serious cases, criminal consequences can result. This could include criminal fines as well as
    potential jail sentences, and is more common for violations related to pollution and dumping.

Often, businesses assume that their licenses are current and valid when in reality, they have expired. Ensure that all licenses are valid and that all local, state, and federal laws are followed.

If the licensing regulations have been violated, most business licenses can be revoked by the licensing agency. This is especially true if the license was issued directly by a government agency.

An appeal may be possible if your business license or permit has been revoked. A letter notifying you of a violation usually includes instructions for appealing your claim.

It is also possible to file a legal claim if you believe your license privileges were wrongfully revoked. For instance, it is possible that the law was wrongly interpreted in your case. Legal investigations sometimes require the participation of other government agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC“).

Lastly, any laws regulating business licenses cannot discriminate against any group.

Additionally, they cannot violate a person’s constitutional rights.

To Report an Environmental Violation

You should contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency if you know of a person or business causing an environmental violation. The EPA’s website is www.epa.gov.

Should I Talk to an Attorney?

If you have been charged with a criminal or civil penalty for failing to have an environmental permit, a government lawyer can help defend you and your case. Alternatively, if you are starting a new business, a business attorney will help you determine which permits you need to apply for, ensuring your business is properly incorporated.

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