A key legal requirement in many places around the world that regulates all sorts of environmental impacts is the need for an environmental permit. A permit is basically a licence that is required to carry out an activity that could harm the environment. A permit is issued by a regulator who sets conditions within the permit. Such conditions may vary but might include physical controls, management controls, training and competency requirements and monitoring etc. It is an offence if a permit is needed for a certain type of activity and one is not gained or if a condition within a permit is not complied with.
You may be wondering what a permit is needed for. Good question! Permitting will obviously vary somewhat around the world. However, as an example we will look at the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016. These regulations in the original form have been around since 2010. They replaced many similar laws for various requirements for licences, consents, authorisations etc. Bringing them all into one set of laws, calling everything an environmental permit and having a combined means of enforcement.
Under the laws there are various ‘regulated facilities’ these are basically activities that require an environmental permit. There are around eleven of these and knowing what they are is a key competency requirement for an environmental practitioner. Sometimes it can be difficult to work out what activities require a permit.
Let’s start with installation permits. These are permits that are required for mostly industrial activities such as power generation, surface treatment of metals and oil refineries etc (see Schedule 1 of the EP Regs 2016 for a comprehensive list). Part A1 and A2 permits are the highest risk regulated facilities and as such the permit is integrated covering many environmental issues such as emissions, management system, energy usage, resources use and noise. Part B permits are not integrated; they are regulated on just emissions to air.
Water Discharge Activities
Another regulated facility is a water discharge activities that are usually required for discharges into surface water (such as rivers, streams and lakes). They set limits on parameters such as pH, suspended solids and volume. They took over a while back from the requirement to have a consent to discharge under the Water Resource Act 1991. There is also a requirement to obtain a groundwater activity permit for actions that may result in groundwater pollution such as a direct or indirect release of a pollutant to groundwater. A flood risk activity involves carrying out work in, over, or near a main river or flood defence or within a floodplain. It used to be known as a flood defence consent.
Waste operations are a regulated facility type that involve waste but are not specifically covered by installation permits. There are exemptions to possessing a waste operation permit and sometimes such exemptions must be registered with the regulator.
Radioactive Substance Activity
A radioactive substance activity generally covers smaller scale operations involving radioactive substances and wastes. For example, nuclear power stations are regulated under separate laws. I am therefore thinking about radioactive sources used in hospitals or in industry for example for x rays or non destructive testing.
Medium Combustion Plants and Specified Generators
Quite a new permit requirement is for ‘Medium Combustion Plants’ and ‘Specified Generators’ these must have a net thermal input that is equal to or greater than 1 megawatt but less than 50 megawatts. This fairly new permitting requirement is being phased in over a number of years.
Solvent emission activities include the use of VOC for dry cleaning and surface adhesive application.
There is a need for a competent environmental practitioner to understand when a work activity requires an environmental permit. A permit is needed for activities such as industrial installations, discharges to water courses, storage and treatment of waste. Remember, ignorance of the law is no defence!
John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MIEMA
With over 19 years’ experience working in environment management, John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant