This material provides a guide to state and federal environmental requirements that affect businesses and industries located or operating within the Commonwealth of Virginia. It has been written to inform company managers, facility engineers, local economic development officials and citizens about approvals that must be obtained before a business constructs or operates a facility.
1.1 General Characteristics of Environmental Regulation in Virginia
While a few environmental regulatory programs have originated in Virginia law, most are the result of nationwide environmental and health regulations developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under federal law. Virginia is in EPA Region III, which is headquartered in Philadelphia.
Methods of implementing federal regulations in state programs vary among the agencies. Generally, environmental standards are adopted by reference to federal standards, while procedures for permit application and review are detailed in state regulations. Agencies typically control fees, review times and application processes. In some cases, federal law requires public hearings; in other cases, hearings are at the discretion of the agency boards, which set guidelines regarding their direct involvement in individual permits or classes of permits.
The complexities of environmental programs, both regulatory and non-regulatory, dictate that any business or industry new to Virginia or that is modifying a facility or process seek guidance from all appropriate regulatory agencies.
1.2 Regulatory Methods Employed in Virginia
A wide variety of regulatory requirements are used in Virginia by the various agencies charged with protecting public health and conserving natural resources. Some, such as the requirement that a business determine the toxicity of materials to be used or stored, require little interaction with an agency prior to the start of an industrial activity. At the other extreme, a permit may specify in considerable detail how a facility may be constructed or operated and therefore must be obtained prior to commencement of any activity, including construction. The list below briefly describes the regulatory methods employed by agencies in Virginia. Because a prospective business activity may be affected by more than one program, early contact with the regulatory agencies is recommended so requirements can be incorporated into early planning for the project.
- Permitting: Businesses may have to obtain a permit from the state to construct and operate a facility if it will produce pollution, has the potential to be hazardous, involves dredging or filling of waterways or includes surface water or ground water withdrawal. The permit is an agreement that binds the owners to design requirements and the operators to performance procedures and standards.
- Certification: Businesses can be required to document or provide affidavits showing that they are in compliance with a regulation or standard or have constructed a facility in a certain way.
- Registration: Owners or operators may have to provide notice and describe facilities that are in operation at the time a new regulation becomes effective. Registered facilities that are to be reactivated or modified are treated as new facilities and require permits.
- Monitoring: Businesses may be required to sample and record levels of emissions from a facility, including air pollutants, wastewater, noise and dust.
- Reporting: Businesses can be required to report such facts as the operation of certain types of equipment, emissions of specific pollutants or storage and use of toxic substances.
- Licensing: Persons who perform certain tasks in a business may have to hold an occupational license in addition to the environmental permits required for the construction and/or operation of the facility itself.
Projects that require federal permits or are supported with federal funds are subject to the environmental impact review requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. For other private and local government projects, state environmental impact reporting is not required, except for power transmission lines and commercial pipelines. The State Corporation Commission may require impact reporting as part of its licensing process.
1.3 General Permits and Permits-by-Rule
The most dramatic results in streamlining permit processes have come, and will continue to come, from the increased use of general permits and permits-by-rule. DEQ is able to significantly reduce the time, expense and complexity related to the preparation and review of a permit for facilities with substantially similar industrial, remedial or sanitary processes and devote more time and resources to permits for facilities with more complex permit requirements. Permit requirements for general permits and permits-by-rule are enforced in the same manner that individual permit requirements are enforced.
With general permits, DEQ develops requirements for category-specific permits with EPA and adopts the permits through the regulatory process; individual facilities within the Commonwealth are then able to apply for and be covered by the "umbrella" of the general permit. For both DEQ and permit applicants, the benefits are significant: general permits can be issued in a matter of days, not months, saving all participants time and money, and individual facilities save the expense of developing and presenting costly data because this information is covered on their behalf in the general permit. General permits are in place for:
- Petroleum cleanups
- Non-metallic mineral mining operations
- Confined animal feeding operations
- Stormwater discharges, from construction activities and from industrial operations
- Sanitary sewage discharges of less than 1,000 gallons per day.
- Seafood processors
- Non-contact cooling water
- Ready-mix concrete plants
- Fish farms
- Car washes
- Poultry growing operations
With certain permits-by-rule, an applicant is deemed to have a permit upon filing specified information with DEQ. With other permits-by-rule, the applicant is deemed to have a permit when DEQ acknowledges receipt of the required information. For more information, check the appropriate regulation. Generally, these permits are used for categories of facilities that have very simple permit requirements and pose minimal threat to the environment. The information submitted is certified by a professional engineer as being accurate and in compliance with regulatory requirements. Currently, DEQ uses permits-by-rule for:
- Yard waste composting facilities
- Energy recovery or incineration facilities for solid waste
- Waste transfer stations
- Materials recovery facilities for solid waste
DEQ believes that the future of increased permitting efficiency lies in the expansion of the use of general permits and permits-by-rule wherever possible. Data continues to demonstrate that this innovative approach to permitting not only cuts average times for permit issuance dramatically, but it also reveals that such streamlined permitting will continue to free experienced DEQ staff to better serve applicants with complex permitting needs. DEQ is pursuing development of general permits or permits-by-rule for certain classes of activities in nontidal wetlands.
1.4 Administration of Environmental Regulations
Each state regulatory agency has a board composed of citizens appointed by the Governor. The boards have statutory authority to promulgate regulations and to approve certain permits. The boards seek information from the public, the regulated community and advisory committees before promulgating regulations required by environmental statutes. The boards also become involved in permitting by conducting public hearings and approving certain types of permits. In cases where environmental laws or permit conditions are violated, the boards may act to impose administrative sanctions and initiate legal action.
The Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources directly supervises state resource conservation and environmental policy development, as well as program planning and development within the agencies. The Secretary, however, has no authority over decisions regarding issuance of permits, development of regulations or functions specifically assigned to agencies.
Agency directors manage the operations of their agencies according to the statute that created the agency and specific delegations made by its board. Generally, the directors have considerable authority over issuance of permits, interpretation of regulations and initiation of enforcement actions. The agency staffs are organized into divisions responsible for specific programs. The primary points of contact for the public and industries regulated by the agencies are the regional offices.
Agencies collaborate to determine how the various regulations should be appropriately and fairly applied. For example, in the analysis of an application to the Department of Environmental Quality for withdrawal of water from a stream, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries would be consulted during the review to evaluate the effect of the withdrawal on fish and wildlife and to prevent harm to rare and endangered species. The Department of Conservation and Recreation would be consulted to determine the impact on recreation resources and unique habitats. The Department of Historic Resources would comment on the protection of historic structures and archaeological resources.
Because of differing areas of jurisdiction and expertise among state agencies, some federally required programs may be enforced by more than one state agency. An example of this is the Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit for discharges to surface waters, which is administered by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy for surface coal mines, and by the Department of Environmental Quality in all other cases. On the other hand, some environmental programs are conducted by agencies not routinely engaged in natural resource management. One example of this is the authority of the State Corporation Commission to require environmental impact assessments from applicants for electric power transmission lines and pipelines proposed in the Commonwealth.