No matter where you are in the U.S., your facility most likely needs to adhere to a wide variety of rules and regulations dictated by various environmental agencies. Here we discuss what the concept of compliance is, what it means to your operation, and how to see if you are compliant.
Here at RMA, we talk about environmental compliance a lot. It's in our DNA. Much like art, it's one of those things we know when we see it. We talk about it constantly, with clients, with family members, with regulators, during classes and speaking engagements, and just about any opportunity we can. It's second nature to us.
But we realize, many of you out there are unsure what it means. We get it time and time again…
"What is environmental compliance? What does it mean? What does it entail?"
It's a great question, simply because if you aren't sure what it means, then chances are you're probably not in compliance. The biggest risk of not being in compliance is violations, penalties, monetary fines, and other bad things you don't want happening to your company. Not being in compliance is not good.
So what is environmental compliance?
Webster's dictionary defines compliance as "conformity in fulfilling official requirements". That's pretty much it. If you put the word environmental in there, you'll have a great definition of what environmental compliance is. It's conformity in fulfilling official environmental requirements.
And simply put, conformity means getting it right and meeting the requirements. It means doing everything that is required, and not picking and choosing what to do with your regulatory requirements. It means doing everything you have to do, completely, and correctly.
Great, we're working through it, but what are environmental requirements? Good question. Those are the rules and regulations mandated and enforced by city, county, state, or federal environmental agencies.
Sound easy? It can be. It can also be very hard. Think about this: if you're in a small operation in a rural location, you might have just a few regulations to adhere to. Maybe even only state regulations. In that case, being in compliance is pretty easy. But, if you're located somewhere like New York City or Miami, you might have regulations from the town, county, state, and federal government to adhere to. It can be a nightmare!
Your first step is to figure out which rules and regulations apply to you. It's harder if you're a special type of operation, but there's plenty of individual permits out there, so don't think you can escape this stuff. Once you figure out what you need to comply with, you have to do it accurately, completely, and all the time.
We frequently find most facilities need to be in compliance with:
- Stormwater permits (almost everyone needs one)
- Air permits (not as many people, but still a lot need them)
- An SPCC plan if you store petroleum on site (even if just in 55-gallon drums)
- Community-Right-to-Know Reporting (almost everyone has to do this)
- Toxic Release Inventory Reporting (more people than you think have to do this)
- Storage Tanks Registration (like if you store fuel, chemicals, additives, or solvents)
- Hazardous Waste Generator Status Registration (again, a lot of people need this)
- A whole lot more depending on what you do and where you're located
Why be environmentally compliant?
The biggest reason: you have no choice. Government regulations aren't like playing T-Ball. Just showing up won't get you a trophy. You have to get it right. You have to take the time, effort, and unfortunately the money to get yourself into compliance or your business will be facing trouble sooner or later. I've seen people thrown in jail, fines in the millions of dollars, offices raided by the FBI and businesses shut down for weeks on end while investigators find proof for whatever case they're making on your business, you name it. Can you afford something like that?
Oh boy. How do I get into compliance?
My advice is to audit your facility. Better yet, hire an environmental professional who knows your area, your industry, or just someone you trust. At the end of the day, you have to find out exactly what applies to your specific location.
Then you have to go over everything you do with a fine-tooth comb. Make sure you know what you're supposed to, or allowed to be doing at your operation. Make darn sure you don't break the rules, or lie, or falsify anything. Make sure you're doing everything correctly.
If you're not, address the problem. Start figuring out how you can change for the better, and keep at it. It might cost time, money, and manpower, but it's going to be drastically cheaper than getting caught. Plus, if you get caught, you're going to have to do it anyway. And you'll most likely be under a microscope so a tiny problem could be a big issue. Do it right from the get-go.
If you can do all this, you'll find yourself "fulfilling your official environmental requirements". In other words, do what you have to, follow the rules and regulations impacting your facility, and you'll find yourself in compliance.
Some find it hard, some find it easy. Some people just get it, some people need environmental compliance training. Bottom line is you have no option here. You have to do it. If you're struggling with this concept, and need help keeping your operation up to snuff, click here to contact us, or give us a call at 609-693-8301 to see what you can do to get your facility where it needs to be.