Environmental Issues

The following has been excerpted from the Manufacturers' Handbook on Environmental Issues produced by Tennessee Valley Authority, Manufacturing Development Staff, Water Resources Division, Environmental Quality Staff, Environmental Education Section; Dick Harrison, editor.


Who needs to be concerned about environmental permits?

All businesses, no matter how small or large, need to be aware of environmental permitting requirements. Many different situations may require a business to secure an environmental permit. You probably need one or more environmental permits if your business:

  1. creates solid wastes or trash
  2. releases emissions into the air or water through normal production
  3. uses hazardous materials or generates hazardous waste
  4. transports hazardous materials or hazardous waste
  5. operates equipment that may release such pollution, such as diesel engines
  6. is planning an expansion
  7. has buildings or property with storm-water runoff
  8. is considering producing a new substance
  9. uses pesticides or fertilizers
  10. changes the appearance or function of land or water (such as logging operations)
  11. stores or uses petroleum products
  12. is located on a waterfront or river
  13. uses drinking water from a source other than a public drinking water supply
  14. withdraws water from the ground or from a stream
  15. affects the habitat of an endangered species.

Even if a permit is not required for your business to release certain emissions, you are still required to comply with emission standards and may be required to report the levels of emissions. And although a permit may not be required, there can be severe penalties for not complying with other requirements.

How many different kinds of permits are there? 

There are many different kinds of permits, particularly if state and local permits are taken into consideration. Many federal regulations require permits. These include:

The Clean Water Act (CWA). This act was created to protect all U.S. surface waters for designated consumption, recreational, ecological and commercial uses. The CWA requires on-site controls and precautions for preventing spills and leaks of oil and other contaminants from reaching streams or rivers. In-stream construction of any kind requires a permit under the CWA. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) is the permitting process under CWA. No one may discharge pollutants of any kind into surface waters without an NPDES permit.

The Clean Air Act (CAA). Under CAA, National Ambient Air Quality Standards have been established for six pollutants; particulates, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone and lead. The federal government sets ambient as well as emission standards, and states establish regulations to restrict emissions and grant permits to companies which meet the regulations.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). This act regulates storage, transportation and disposal of hazardous wastes; the storage of non-hazardous solid wastes; and underground storage tanks used for chemicals or petroleum products. It also requires companies which generate more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of waste during any month to notify EPA or the state regarding how it is being managed, and requires "cradle to grave"tracking of wastes.

The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). SARA was created to increase the public's access to information about hazardous chemicals and to require businesses which use hazardous chemicals to devise plans for responding quickly in the case of an accident. SARA requires companies which release emissions beyond a threshold level to report their emissions to the EPA.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA requires that the EPA be notified of any new chemical prior to its release to the marketplace, and gives EPA the authority to regulate production of materials considered hazardous.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA). ESA is intended to protect, conserve and enhance the existence of endangered and threatened species and their habitats.

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). This act regulates the manufacture, distribution and the use of pesticides.

The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA). This act requires the labeling of hazardous materials, the use of manifests for tracking shipments of hazardous materials and the use of special containers for transporting these materials.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). This act requires that all "public"water systems - including private in-plant facilities - which serve twenty-five or more people meet federal drinking water regulations, and specifies treatment system operator qualifications.

Where do I apply for permits?

The place to start applying for a permit is your state's environmental agency or department of conservation. If you need other permits, this agency can direct you to the appropriate organizations. Some states have one-stop permitting that allows companies to get advice about all the types of permits they need at one location. EPA can also provide guidance through its regional offices. These are listed in local phone directories.

Industry trade associations can be another good source for information on where to apply for permits. Trade associations can be excellent clearinghouses for information about environmental matters affecting a particular industry, and the experiences of one business in obtaining permits can be shared with similar companies. In some cases, entire industries have applied for some types of permits via their trade associations.

How long does the permitting process normally take?

There is no one answer to this question. Some permits can be granted in a very short time. Others may require months or years. A major project may require environmental impact studies that take a great deal of time to prepare and approve. Because of this, there is one simple rule to follow: plan as far ahead as possible.

Toxic Regulations

How can I determine if I'm generating a hazardous waste or emission?

Under RCRA, the Environmental Protection Agency has published lists of hazardous wastes. These lists are extensive, but clearly categorized. You can determine if you're generating a hazardous waste or emission by referring to these lists and to EPA regulations. Some wastes which are not on the lists are also hazardous. Hazardous air pollutants are listed in Title 3 of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. (To get a list, contact EPA or your state environmental agency.)

What types of disposal procedures are required for hazardous or toxic wastes?

Hazardous waste should be isolated from your non-hazardous wastes. It must be collected and stored in an approved manner; identified and classified according to the Department of Transportation's Hazardous Materials Table; and packed, marked and labeled according to regulations. You must determine that your transporter and your treatment, storage and disposal facilities have EPA ID numbers. The hazardous material must then be shipped by a transporter to a permitted hazardous waste management facility. Regulations require you to keep careful records of all waste generated; how it was transported and the method of final disposition. This "cradle to grave"record procedure is designed to help prevent accidental or deliberate releases of hazardous materials by allowing regulatory agencies to monitor waste generation and management.


How many areas are in non attainment? Why does it have an effect on my business?

Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1970 called for federally mandated National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and set deadlines for states to develop plans to meet the standards. NAAQS standards have been set for particulates, carbon monoxide, ozone, oxides of nitrogen, sulfur oxides and lead. The standards are based on concentrations of air which can affect health or cause material damage. Some of the standards (especially ozone) have been particularly difficult to attain. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 address these problems.

Today, areas in non attainment can be subjected to serious restrictions on new and existing sources of the non attainment pollutant. These restrictions can include banning new sources of the non attainment pollutant, or increased emissions from existing sources, unless they obtain emission reductions from existing sources to offset new emissions.

Employee Health

Do I have to provide any special training to employees?

Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know regulations, a business is required to have an emergency plan in place to handle spills, fires or other emergency situations involving hazardous materials. This requires employee training, which varies depending on the hazards identified at your plant. All employees need to be versed in basic emergency procedures, and many organizations have formed special employee teams (similar to fire brigades) to respond to environmental emergency situations as part of their emergency planning. You must also designate an emergency coordinator who is available 24 hours a day to respond in case an emergency occurs. In the case of a small business, this emergency coordinator can be the owner. Also, if your facility has a permitted waste treatment system, operator training is essential to prevent permit violations.


How many different environmental regulations affect business?

There are numerous laws and regulations that can affect a business at the federal, state and local levels. Federal laws under which businesses are regulated include the following:

  1. The Clean Water Act, which controls releases into all U.S. surface waters.
  2. The Clean Air Act, which sets national air quality standards and controls emissions into the air.
  3. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which controls solid and hazardous wastes and underground storage tanks and sets standards for their management.
  4. The Safe Drinking Water Act, which establishes national drinking water regulations.
  5. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund), which makes provisions for cleanup of sites where hazardous wastes have gotten into the environment. Reporting spills or releases of regulated substances into the environment is also regulated under Superfund.
  6. The Occupational Safety and Health Act, which established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and is responsible for establishing standards to protect workers engaged in hazardous materials and hazardous waste operations.
  7. The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA Title 111, or Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act), which requires planning to handle environmental emergencies and distribution of information about potential hazardous materials to communities.
  8. The Toxic Substances Control Act, which regulates the production and use of any new toxic materials. PCBs and asbestos are regulated under this act.
  9. The Endangered Species Act, which provides means for protection, conservation and enhancement of endangered and threatened species of plants and animals.
  10. The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, which establishes a labeling and manifest system for the shipping of hazardous materials.

Is my business subject to inspection?

State and federal authorities have the right to inspect your business to determine if you are in compliance with environmental regulations. Routine inspections are limited to normal business hours, but your business could be subject to an investigation that would allow inspections at any time. Someone at the plant should be instructed to accommodate inspectors whenever they show up.

Contacts for More Information

The Environmental Protection Agency

Regional Office (Covering TVA region)
Environmental Protection Agency Region 4
61 Forsyth Street SW
Atlanta, GA 30303
(404) 562-9900

State Regulatory Agencies

Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation
Main Office
312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue
Nashville, TN  37243
(888) 891-8332

Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation
Jackson Office
1625 Hollywood Drive
Jackson, TN  38305
(731) 512-1300

Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation
Memphis Office
8383 Wolf Lake Drive
Bartlett, TN  38133
(901) 371-3000