Be in the Know: Understanding Environmental Laws

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The construction industry is vital in every developing country. Yet, its activities can damage the environment if not monitored.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is strict in implementing environmental laws. This is to lessen the impact of construction activities on the environment. Every construction project must meet all federal, state, and local requirements. Violators will face civil penalties of up to $27,500 daily and criminal penalties of up to $250,000, plus 15 years of imprisonment.

It is then crucial for all parties involved to meet their environmental obligations. Check the regulations of the state where you are located before you start the project.

The EPA lists down these requirements as a guide for developers before they start a project:

For construction activities in one or multiple acres of land

If your construction site digs into large areas of land, you have to get the Clean Water Act (CWA) permit coverage. This covers the release of stormwater from your area.

It is critical to present a Notice of Intent or NOI and prepare a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan or SWPPP for your construction site. Upon completion of activities in the area, present a Notice of Termination (NOT).

For construction activities that dredge and excavate materials from U.S. waters

You have to Section 404 permits if you have to discharge dredged materials. Depending on how huge the effects of the construction activity, the EPA may refuse to issue permits.

For construction activities that produce harmful waste

This waste includes used cleaners, paint thinners, paint, used oil, among others. See the listed requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act or RCRA.

For construction activities that use hazardous chemicals

You have to meet the emergency planning and reporting requirements. This depends on which chemical you are using on-site. Read on the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and the Oil Pollution Act for more details.

For construction activities that dig into soil containing hazardous substances

The requirements are stated in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act or CERCLA. The law covers closed and abandoned sites that produce harmful waste. It also holds the persons liable. The law is also known as the Superfund because it requires a trust fund to secure cleanup in case no one is liable.

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For construction activities that produce polychlorinated biphenol (PCB) waste

The Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA) states the requirements in managing your storage and disposal of PCB waste.

Other laws are crucial in planning for your construction projects, such as the Clean Air Act (CAA), National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Historic Preservation Act. What should you do to make sure that the project complies with all these requirements?

Study the federal environmental laws and inquire about the local laws.

You have to take in mind that some other regulations will depend on local implementation. Since you will have to get permits from the state, you might as well make a checklist of their requirements. If you have projects across different states, it will help to keep a record of what each state requires. So the next time you’ll have a project in the area, you will already know the process.

Assess your construction site and conduct a feasibility study.

The feasibility study will analyze the physical conditions of your construction site. What are the physical conditions of the site? Will your activities harm endangered species? Will your activities pollute land, air, and water? By analyzing all these, you will know which permits to get and which plans to prepare. With these, you can prepare for the restoration and rehabilitation after the project.

Assign key persons per process.

Educating your team about the processes will be beneficial to your company. Take in mind that everyone can be liable for violations. If you choose each permit processing to a specific person, you’ll know who to follow up and hold accountable should problems arise.

Make a checklist and track your operations.

You have to oversee the entire project and regularly inspect it. This will assure you that the project is being managed well. You have to educate your team on good practices in the construction site. Inform them of the possible penalties in case they violate. Through this, you will get cooperation from your workers on site.

The construction industry will always affect the environment. Nonetheless, by making sure that you follow all these environmental laws, you can also take part in minimizing damage to the environment. At the end of the day, you can restore and rehabilitate the area after the project.

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