What is Environmental Permitting?

Environmental Permitting

Environmental Permitting is a discipline that specializes in preparing the proper documentation for and obtaining the required permissions from local, state, and federal agencies. The Environmental Permitting Specialist compiles project information from many disciplines and then presents it in a way that clearly illustrates to a regulating agency what the project is and how it meets their requirements.

Permitting, in some form, has been part of the development process for hundreds of years. It was with the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1970 however, that a broad range of environmentally-focused permits became part of the application process.   

What can an Environmental Permitting Specialist do for me?

The requirements of regulatory agencies are ever-changing and can often be confusing. An Environmental Permitting Specialist is able to weed through those requirements and ensure that the necessary regulating bodies obtain all the required project information for an application.  They research the past regulatory activity for a site and review the proposed project for impacts on natural and cultural resources.  By working closely with the regulatory agencies, the developer, and the design team an Environmental Permitting Specialist helps to streamline the permitting process.  This translates to a savings of time and resources for our clients.  

Who are the regulating parties?

Proposed developments may be required to meet regulations on a Local, State, or Federal level or a combination of all three. 

Local – The overall permitting requirements of municipalities vary; however, all local ordinances have some provision for the regulation of work within shoreland zones.  Shoreland zones at a minimum are defined as:

  • All land areas within 250 feet of ponds;
  • Non-forested freshwater wetlands that are 10 acres or larger;
  • Rivers with watersheds of at least 25 square miles in drainage area;
  • Coastal wetlands and tidal waters;
  • All land areas within 7-feet of certain streams.

In Maine, the Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act was enacted by the Legislature in 1971.  Through this legislation, municipalities were empowered to create and enforce their own shoreland zoning ordinance that adopts at a minimum the State outlined shoreland zone standard.  For those municipalities that have not adopted a community-specific shoreland zoning ordinance, the State model ordinance was adopted for them.  The State model outlines standards for development within a shoreland area that include:

  • Minimum lot area and frontage; 
  • Structure setbacks; 
  • Clearing limitations; 
  • Timber harvesting limitations; 
  • Erosion and sedimentation control; 
  • Sewage disposal; and 
  • Provisions for nonconforming uses, lots, and structures.

State – In Maine, environmental regulations at the state level are overseen and enforced by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.  Development in the State can trigger a variety of different permitting requirements.  The two regulations that are often triggered are the Natural Resource Protection Act (NRPA) and the Site Location of Development Act (SLODA).

The NRPA is a law enacted that focuses on activities that occur in or in the vicinity of protected natural resources (i.e. coastal and freshwater wetlands, significant wildlife habitat, rivers, etc.)

An activity is defined as:

  • Dredging, bulldozing, removing or displacing soil, sand, vegetation or other materials; 
  • Draining or otherwise dewatering;
  • Filling (including adding sand or other material to a sand dune); or
  • Any construction, repair or alteration of any permanent structure.

Please see the State NRPA site for additional information and a full list of protected natural resources.

The SLODA is a law enacted that requires the review of developments that may have a substantial effect on the environment.  These developments include such projects as those occupying more than 20 acres, large structures, subdivisions, and oil terminal facilities.

A SLODA permit is issued to projects that meet applicable standards addressing areas such as:

  • Stormwater management; 
  • Groundwater protection;
  • Wildlife and fisheries;
  • Noise; and
  • Unusual natural areas.

Please see the State site for additional information.

The DEP is typically the lead agency in the State regulatory process, however, an Environmental Permitting Specialist will also coordinate with several other State agencies to ensure project compliance.  These agencies include:

  • Maine Historic Preservation Commission;
  • Maine Natural Areas Program; and
  • Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Federal – The scope of some proposed developments could result in triggering regulatory review on a federal level.  There are many federal agencies that a project may trigger oversight of, with two such agencies being the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Although State and Federal agencies typically work together to help streamline the application process for developments, separate Federal permit applications do at times need to be completed.  

ACOE has jurisdiction over activities that will impact the navigable waters of the United States.  The definition of navigable waters has changed over the years since the establishment of the Clean Water Act, with the most recent changes occurring just this past October 14, 2020.   An Environmental Permitting Specialist works with the ACOE to ensure those projects that could impact navigable waters of the United States are in compliance with the most current regulations.  The ACOE has a General Permit established for certain activities within the State of Maine and an Individual Permit for those activities not outlined in the General Permit. Additional information on the Maine General Permit.

The EPA provides oversight on many areas of environmental regulation.  As with the ACOE, the EPA works in conjunction with the State to ensure environmental regulations are met. One of the areas that EPA involvement will occur is with activities that require compliance with Section 309 of the Clean Air Act.  That compliance can also trigger compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  

NEPA, regulated by the Council of Environmental Quality, requires that federal agencies assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions on:

  • Permit applications;
  • Adopting federal land management actions; and
  • Constructing highways or other publicly owned facilities.

NEPA established a process for government agencies to evaluate the environmental, social, and economic effects of a proposed action.   The NEPA process varies from agency to agency.  Although NEPA was established to provide oversight to Federal Agencies, it can directly apply to private sector projects.  For example:

  • The Federal Communication Commission has an established process for the construction or expansion of communication towers.  So towers that require permitting through the FCC will require NEPA review;
  • The Federal Highway Administration has an established process for federally funded roads.  Those road projects that receive a certain amount of federal funding will require NEPA review. 

More information on the EPA involvement in the NEPA process.  NEPA is another area of regulation that has undergone recent changes.  You can find out more about the September 14, 2020 revisions.

This has been a brief introduction to the varied requirements of Environmental Permitting.  Want to learn more about Sebago Technics’ environmental permitting services? Contact Permitting/Project Coordinators Rebecca Gabryszewski (207-200-2065) and/or Stefanie Nichols (207-200-2120) to discuss your project needs.