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Overview: Key Federal Environmental Laws

In today's world, small businesses must balance growth and responsibility to the environment. Federal laws exist to protect the environment, ensure safety, and promote sustainability. But understanding and following these laws can be tricky, especially for small businesses. This article is an overview of federal environmental laws for small businesses. We'll provide practical insights to help small business owners navigate regulations.

The Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act regulates air pollution in the United States. It applies to various sources of air emissions, including small businesses. Under the Clean Air Act, small businesses must follow specific air regulations to control and reduce their air emissions. This may include:

  • Using pollution control technologies
  • Maintaining proper record-keeping
  • Getting permits for certain activities

Small businesses can contribute to cleaner air and a healthier environment for everyone. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ensures compliance with the Act. The EPA created National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). NAAQS set acceptable levels of emissions from both stationary and mobile sources.

The Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act focuses on protecting the quality of our nation's water resources. Compliance with the Clean Water Act requires the following:

  1. Following regulations
  2. Using pollution prevention measures
  3. Treating wastewater before release

The EPA implemented industry standards for wastewater. Suppose a small business might introduce impurities into the water. In that case, they must get permits. Examples include discharging wastewater or stormwater runoff. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) issues these permits.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

The SDWA addresses issues relating to the quality and safety of drinking water in the United States. The EPA can establish standards for sources of water for human consumption. SDWA contains both health-related standards and nuisance-related standards. The EPA and local governments work together to start enforcement actions.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)

CERCLA addresses the cleanup of hazardous waste sites and their liability. CERCLA is also known as the Superfund law. CERCLA applies to small businesses responsible for hazardous waste releases or contamination. The EPA can charge businesses for cleanup costs and other unsafe use or disposal liabilities. Small businesses should:

  • Properly manage hazardous substances
  • Promptly report any spills or releases
  • Take necessary actions to prevent environmental harm

The Emergency Planning & Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA)

The EPCRA enhances community safety and preparedness for hazardous substances. EPCRA applies to small businesses that handle or store certain hazardous chemicals. These businesses must report their chemical inventory annually. They must also provide information to the local community about potential hazards. Small businesses must take part in emergency planning efforts with local emergency response agencies.

Under the EPCRA, each state must create and maintain a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC). Each SERC has Emergency Planning Districts. Each district must have a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). The SERCs and LEPCs provide the community with resources on chemical hazards.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA)

The ESA applies to small businesses that may impact endangered or threatened species. Under the ESA, small businesses must avoid actions that may harm protected species or their habitats.

If a project could impact an endangered or threatened species, a small business may need to:

  • Get special permits
  • Consult with federal agencies to ensure compliance

The ESA also prohibits the sale and trade of products made from endangered species. This may affect small businesses involved in wildlife-related commerce.

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)

FIFRA applies to small businesses that produce, sell, or use pesticides, such as insecticides and fungicides. Small businesses must register the pesticides they handle with the EPA. FIFRA requires users of pesticides to follow the instructions on the product labels. Proper use is essential to prevent harm to human health and the environment.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

NEPA ensures the government considers environmental impacts before making important decisions. NEPA applies to small businesses involved in projects requiring federal permits or funding. These small businesses must conduct environmental assessments to understand and reduce their projects' effects on the environment.

The Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA)

OSHA requires employers to provide their workers with a safe workplace. Some OSHA initiatives do not directly affect the environment. An example is the requirements for safety for workers on elevated sites. Other provisions specifically address environmental issues. An example is regulating the use of toxic or hazardous materials in the workplace.

OSHA is one of the few federal laws relating to the environment that the EPA does not control. Many states have their own workplace safety and health acts. State acts must have provisions that meet, if not exceed, the federal OSHA requirements.

The Pollution Prevention Act

The Pollution Prevention Act encourages businesses to reduce pollution at its source. This act applies to small businesses by promoting proactive measures to prevent pollution. Small businesses are encouraged to make changes to reduce pollution. Changes in the production, operation, and use of raw materials can cut pollution. Recycling and reusing materials are also emphasized.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

The RCRA allows the EPA to control various activities involving hazardous waste, including:

  • Generation
  • Transportation
  • Treatment
  • Storage
  • Disposal

RCRA also contains provisions for the management of nonhazardous solid wastes. RCRA complements CERCLA, which provides mechanisms for controlling all hazardous waste situations. RCRA focuses on active and future facilities. CERCLA deals with abandoned or historical sites and emergencies.

The Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA) is an amendment to the RCRA. The HSWA requires phasing out land disposal of hazardous waste. HSWA created more stringent hazardous waste management standards.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

The TSCA regulates the production and use of chemicals in the United States. TSCA applies to small businesses that manufacture, import, or use chemical substances.

Under this law, small businesses must report the chemicals they produce or use. They must also report any significant adverse effects related to these substances.

Small Business Environmental Assistance Programs (SBEAP)

Small Business Environmental Assistance Programs are required under the Clean Air Act. They help small business owners follow environmental regulations. These state programs have three parts:

  1. Small business environmental assistance providers' programs (SBEAP)
  2. Small business ombudsman (SBO)
  3. Compliance advisory panel (CAP)

The SBEAP provides valuable resources, technical assistance, and compliance assistance. The SBEAP helps small businesses reduce their impact on the environment.

Compliance With Federal Environmental Laws: Get Legal Help

Even an innocent regulatory mistake that violates key federal regulations can be devastating. If you need help understanding environmental laws relevant to your business, a business and commercial law attorney help. An experienced attorney can help your business ensure environmental compliance.

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