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  • Writer's pictureJD Solomon

How General Permits Help Business and Safeguard the Environment

General permits are the bread-and-butter of successful projects. They also provide an important protective license for the environment.  JD Solomon inc. provide solutions for program development.
General permits are the bread-and-butter of successful projects. They also provide an important protective license for the environment.

General permits are the bread-and-butter of most facility and infrastructure projects. On a larger scale, environmental permits are critical for reducing environmental and assuring compliance. In every major program or project, we start with an initial list of permits we must obtain. The size, complexity, and location are big factors in whether we’ll need a general or individual permit – and is a big component of the “magic” of a well-orchestrated project. Obtaining the necessary environmental permits for a program or major project is critical for its success. Misunderstanding or outright failure leads to project delays, fines, and exponentially unanticipated costs.


Water-Related Permits - Overview per USEPA

The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, created in 1972 by the Clean Water Act (CWA), helps address water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into the waters of the United States. The permit provides two levels of control: technology-based limits and water quality-based limits (if technology-based limits are insufficient to protect the water body).


Types of Water-Related Permits per USEPA

An NPDES permit is a license for a facility to discharge a specified amount of a pollutant into a receiving water under certain conditions. Permits may also authorize facilities to process, incinerate, landfill, or beneficially use sewage sludge. The two basic types of NPDES permits issued are individual and general permits.


Individual Permits

An individual permit is a permit specifically tailored to an individual facility. Once a facility submits the appropriate application(s), the permitting authority develops a permit for that particular facility based on the information contained in the permit application (e.g., type of activity, nature of discharge, receiving water quality). The authority issues the permit to the facility for a specific period (not to exceed five years) with a requirement that the facility reapply before the expiration date.


General Permits

A general permit covers a group of dischargers with similar qualities within a given location. General permits offer a cost-effective option for permitting agencies because of the large number of facilities that can be covered under a single permit.


National and Regional General Permits - USACE

Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is responsible for administering a regulatory program that requires permits for certain activities in waters of the United States, including wetlands. Under Section 404, the Corps regulates the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the U.S., including wetlands. Under Section 10, the USACE regulates structures and/or work in or affecting the course, condition, or capacity of navigable waters of the U.S.


Activities requiring USACE authorization that are similar and have minimal individual and cumulative environmental impacts may qualify for authorization by a general permit, such as a nationwide permit.


State-Level Program Delegation

USEPA authorizes state, tribal, and territorial governments to implement the NPDES permit program, enabling them to perform many of its permitting, administrative, and enforcement aspects. In states authorized to implement CWA programs, EPA retains oversight responsibilities. Currently, 47 states and one territory are authorized to implement the NPDES program.


Example: North Carolina

North and South Carolina are my home states, so I’ll use North Carolina as an example of different types of general permits:

  • NPDES General Permits

  • General NPDES wastewater permits currently exist for the following activities:

  • Non-contact cooling water discharges

  • Petroleum-based groundwater remediation

  • Sand dredging

  • Seafood packaging

  • Domestic discharges from single-family residences

  • Pesticides

  • Conjunctive Water Uses


Stormwater General Permits

North Carolina has 21 General Industrial (Stormwater) Permits. Industries eligible for one of these permits are issued a Certificate of Coverage (COC). Each facility's COC contains the same requirements as all other facilities covered under the same general Permit. General permits are renewed on a five-year cycle.

NCG010000: Construction Activities for projects permitted on or after Aug 3, 2011

NCG020000: Mining Activities

NCG030000: Metal Fabrication

NCG050000: Apparel, Printing, Leather, Rubber

NCG060000: Food and Kindred

NCG070000: Stone, Clay, and Glass

NCG080000: Transit and Transportation

NCG090000: Paints and Varnishes

NCG100000: Used Motor Vehicles

NCG110000: Treatment Works

NCG120000: Landfills

NCG130000: Non-metal Waste and Scrap Effective

NCG140000: Ready-Mixed Concrete

NCG150000: Airports

NCG160000: Asphalt Paving Mixtures

NCG170000: Textile Mill

NCG180000: Furniture Manufacture

NCG190000: Marinas and Shipbuilding

NCG200000: Scrap Metal

NCG210000: Timber Products

NCG240000: Composting Operations

NCG250000: Construction Activities for projects permitted on or after Oct 1, 2020


Other General Permits – Air Quality

Of course, USEPA also uses general permits for sectors other than water. For example, in North Carolina, these are some of the general permits available in the air sector.

General permits streamline the existing minor source New Source Review (NSR) permitting requirement and minimize the burden on reviewing authorities and sources. General permits standardize requirements that apply to multiple stationary sources with similar emissions characteristics in one document.


For major (Title V) facilities, a general permit can be used to cover numerous similar facilities or sources provided the following conditions are met:

  1. There is no difference between the facilities or sources that would require special permit conditions for any individual facility or source; AND

  2. No unique analysis is required for any facility or source covered by the permit.


For Title V facilities, state general permits are available for New and Existing Air Curtain Incineration (ACI) Units only burning wood waste, clean lumber, or a mixture of wood waste, clean lumber, and/or yard waste.


For non-Title V facilities, a general permit can be used to cover numerous similar facilities or sources related to:

  • Emergency Generators  

  • Cotton Ginning 

  • Yarn Spinning Plants


General Permits are a Valuable Tool

General permits are the bread-and-butter of most facility and infrastructure projects. Understanding when and how general permits can be used instead of individual permits is essential for budget, schedule, and compliance success. The article provides a brief background and demonstrates some of the complexities of general permits through North Carolina as an example.

Note: Portions of this article were taken from USEPA and NCDEQ


JD Solomon Inc. provides solutions for program development, asset management, and facilitation at the nexus of facilities, infrastructure, and the environment. Subscribe for monthly updates related to our firm.



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