The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1970, followed closely by the passage of two of the most significant pieces of environmental legislation to date: the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972. The societal benefits of these laws are undeniable. According to the EPA, improved air quality prevented 160,000 premature deaths in 2010 alone.

The implications of environmental laws for businesses, on the other hand, have been a hot topic for decades, according to The Atlantic. For business owners, complying with these regulations isn't optional.

While doing so isn't always simple, the EPA can help you and your business stay in compliance with its laws.

What Compliance Means for Businesses

The EPA's cornerstone air and water pollution regulations have shaped business operations in a range of industries. If your business generates chemicals, hazardous waste or other pollutants, for example, compliance may dictate where your physical plant is located, what permits you need for your various operational processes and how you train employees in roles tied to relevant environmental regulations. Complicating matters is the fact that you must comply not only with federal standards but also with state and local rules, which can be even more strict — so make sure you understand exactly what each entity requires of you.

And remember, as environmental consultancy Environmental Standards points out, "compliance establishes the minimum requirements to operate legally." As such, noncompliance could carry significant legal and financial risks. The financial consequences, to start, are many: From penalties and fines to legal costs and lawsuit payouts, breaking environmental laws is expensive. Business and Legal Resources notes that in some cases penalties can hit $37,500 a day for each violation and that civil penalties can mean millions of dollars. On top of these penalties is the potential loss of revenue from temporary forced closure, cancellation of government contracts or damage to your business's public reputation.

How the EPA Can Help

While the complexity of complying with environmental laws entails its own costs and effort, the EPA doesn't want its regulations to hold you back. Here are some of the ways that the EPA can help you comply with its laws.

First, the agency provides significant guidance documents organized by environmental topic, including air, chemical safety and pollution prevention, land and emergency management, science and water. Each topic provides guidance on the laws and regulations associated with that particular topic.

The EPA has also established a program called Next Generation Compliance (Next Gen) that transforms how the EPA and businesses regulated under it approach compliance. Next Gen provides tools that allow businesses to identify and fix environmental issues before they become violations under the law. Such tools include implementing electronic reporting, employing advanced monitoring technologies and requiring transparency. Next Gen continues to look for improved compliance techniques by leveraging technology, refining best practices and improving performance by both regulators and businesses regulated by the EPA.

Compliance is key, so use the tools issued by the EPA to confirm that you're safely in line with any and all relevant environmental laws for businesses. Proactively incorporating the EPA's guidance into an annual review of practices and procedures will allow you to fix problems before they become violations. And remember that if you do discover compliance risks or violations, it's always best to report — and correct — them as soon as possible, since the EPA rewards voluntary disclosures by reducing and even eliminating fines.

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If you are unsure what regulations you need to comply with, check with a legal professional knowledgeable in this area for the circumstances relating to your particular business.

Tags: Laws and Regulations