You might think you have all your environmental permits in good order at your facility. Fair enough. But I want you to think again.
Say you're the facility manager of a manufacturing facility. During the manufacturing process, some emissions are generated. But you’ve determined that the emissions and process throughput do not meet the threshold for requiring an air permit. You’re golden.
But… years later, processes and raw materials change. Or production has increased. Or you’re using similar raw materials, but the quantity has increased to the level that your emissions and/or process throughput puts you over that magical threshold for determining if you need a permit or not. If that is the case, unfortunately you may be in violation of local, state or federal regulations. It may be time for a permit or a revised permit.
Here’s the deal: when you do an evaluation for whether or not you need a permit, you’re only looking at your facility’s conditions at that moment in time.
For facilities that do not have permits, I often ask facility managers when they determined they didn’t need a permit – sometimes they tell me 10 years ago! Even though I’m sure a lot has changed at that facility over that timeframe.
For facilities that do have permits, many permits are usually effective for a 5-year time period. Your permits must cover what is going on at your facility; and it is your responsibility to make sure your permits cover what is going on at your facility. Remember, when you applied for your permits, the permit applications you filed covered what was going on at your facility at that moment in time. Lots of changes occur at your facility over that 5-year time period. As a result, do your permits still cover what is going on at your facility?
I’m not saying you always need a new permit or need to modify an existing one. Some facility conditions might still be covered by your original permits despite changes you’ve made.
Whether you have permits or not, make sure you evaluate the conditions at your facility whenever you have any changes that may result in the need for permits or the need to modify your existing permits to account for those changes.
Permitting requirements can be burdensome. Sometimes permits aren’t renewed, required monitoring and reporting isn’t done, training isn’t up to par, or there isn’t proper recordkeeping. All grounds for violations.
Permitting requirements run the gamut of many EH&S regulations, including:
- Air Quality
- Water Quality
- Solid & Hazardous Waste
- Spill Prevention
- Storage Tanks
- TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act)
- Health & Medical Services
- Chemical & Physical Exposures
- Equipment Safeguards
- Security Measures
Yes, there’s lots to know and understand; and we all have limited time to do so!
So How Do You Find Help With Permit Issues?
The good news is that you have a lot of resources to lean on to find out if you’re up to snuff with your permits. Of course, time is of the essence. I recommend you take a multi-pronged approach to be as thorough as possible:
- Seek help from an environmental consultant (yes, they cost money, but much less than the resulting fines from regulators if you do not have the proper permits).
- Seek assistance from an industry association you are a member of for help with regulation interpretation.
- Ask your team or get in touch with a sister facility with similar operations.
- Go online, including regulator websites (they have plenty of guidance documents).
- Enroll in available regulators’ voluntary compliance programs (but seek legal counsel first before enrolling in such programs).
- Consider training (in-person or online).
- Finally, make sure any institutional knowledge you gain in this process is maintained. That comes down to facility knowledge and documentation.
More Than Manufacturers
You might think that if you’re not a manufacturer you don’t need to worry so much about permits and plans. Please don’t make that mistake! For example, we have clients that are office complexes that require permits or plans because they have back-up generators that use fuel oil, they use fluorescent bulb crushers to recycle spent fluorescent light tubes, and some that have cafeterias with oil & grease traps.
Bottom-line is that any facility you manage could potentially need environmental permits. So please don’t assume you do not need a permit and, if you have a permit, please don’t assume that your permit is the correct one for your facility. You have to routinely evaluate your permits and your facility conditions, especially when any changes occur at your facility, to make certain that you do not need a permit or a permit modification. This approach is a core foundation for any robust EH&S program.
To make sure you remain in compliance with permits, be sure to download this free checklist. It’s an easy way to keep track of permits, conditions, and deadlines.