Who Has the Authority to Sign Environmental Applications and Reports?
Specific requirements on who can sign official documents, such as permit applications and related reports, have been established by environmental regulatory agencies.
Have you ever received an e-mail, letter, etc. from a regulator that looked something like this: “Please note, this application must be signed by a corporate officer that meets the requirements of (enter federal/state regulatory reference here). This application was signed by a Plant Manager. If this signature meets the regulatory requirement, documentation to this effect must be submitted.”
This is a modified/redacted version of a real e-mail that was sent from a state agency in response to an application for a wastewater permit. In this case, the application was not time sensitive since it involved replacing an individual National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) (wastewater) permit with a general permit. As such, the company could continue with its permitted activity but was delayed in getting the more appropriate (and less restrictive) permit for its discharge.
In many circumstances, permit applications for air, water and waste programs are time-sensitive because the requested activity involves schedules for new or modified equipment or operations within various phases of a project (i.e. equipment purchases, construction, etc.). Or, if a permit is being renewed, a misstep when signed by an individual that is not authorized may result in the termination of the permit, loss of non-refundable application fees, and/or the inability to continue with the regulated activity.
In addition to permit applications, each of these programs has requirements for certifying and submitting reports to agencies. If the appropriate individual is not identified and certifies reports, the regulatory agencies may consider the report not to have been submitted, potentially subjecting the company to enforcement action.
Provided below are details on who is authorized to submit reports, applications, etc. under several environmental programs.
NPDES Permit Applications and Reports
Environmental regulatory agencies have set up specific requirements on who can sign official documents, including permit applications and associated reports submitted under these programs. Why do agencies care about who signs documents? This allows for the pursuit of the appropriate persons within a corporation if there are civil or other penalties that would be linked to applications and reports. In some cases, signatory authority can be “delegated” to certain individuals assuming it is done in accordance with corporate procedures.
As consultants, we are routinely asked to guide our clients through the layers of federal and state requirements that have been established to ensure the appropriate individuals are signing applications and reports for air, water, waste, or other regulatory programs. The federal programs mandate minimum requirements with the state developing and implementing potentially more restrictive programs and guidance. To get a sense of the minimum requirements for each program, a summary has been presented below for the federal NPDES (wastewater) permit applications and reporting as well as one state-specific summary.
Federal - Permit Applications. For corporations, a “responsible corporate officer” (RCO) is required to sign permit applications. An individual may be identified as an RCO by one of the following three methods:
- Solely by title (i.e. president, secretary, treasurer, or vice-president of the corporation in charge of a principal business function).
- Next, would be “any other person who performs similar policy- or decision-making functions for the corporation” consistent with the individuals with the referenced titles above.
- Or, a “manager of one or more manufacturing, production, or operating facilities, provided, the manager is authorized to make management decisions which govern the operation of the regulated facility including having the explicit or implicit duty of making major capital investment recommendations, and initiating and directing other comprehensive measures to assure long term environmental compliance with environmental laws and regulations; the manager can ensure that the necessary systems are established or actions taken to gather complete and accurate information for permit application requirements; and where authority to sign documents has been assigned or delegated to the managerin accordance with corporate procedures.”
Federal – Reporting. Reports required by NPDES permits need to be signed by a person with a title as described above, or by a “duly authorized representative” of that person.
A person is a duly authorized representative if the following conditions are met:
- The authorization is made in writing by a person with a title as described above for applications;
- The authorization specifies either an individual or a position having responsibility for the overall operation of the regulated facility or activity such as the position of plant manager, operator of a well or a well field, superintendent, position of equivalent responsibility, or an individual or position having overall responsibility for environmental matters for the company; and
- The written authorization is submitted to the Director.
State Permitting/Reporting (CT Summary). The requirements for permit applications in Connecticut (as an example) are the same as the federal ones, but includes an additional element for the “manager” option which includes “employing more than 250 persons or having gross annual sales or expenditures exceeding twenty-five million dollars (in second quarter 1980 dollars)”. These additional qualifications appear to have been taken from the federal RCRA application requirements for an RCO.
The requirement for delegation of authority associated with reporting in Connecticut has been incorporated into a procedure and form identified as the “Subscriber Agreement”. The agreement meets each of the federal criteria detailed above for delegating authority while also establishing a method for approving individuals that are not RCOs for electronic reporting associated with NPDES DMR reporting.
It should be noted that these requirements will be different for various states. Further, specific forms or other submission procedures may be required to address state program requirements. As such, each state’s regulations should be reviewed as well as associated guidance to ensure that individuals signing applications and reports are consistent with the program’s requirements.
Signatory and delegation requirements like the NPDES program detailed above are in place for other environmental programs including RCRA (Hazardous Waste), EPCRA, and Air Permitting. Federal regulations will again be the minimum requirements for these programs with states developing consistent and potentially more stringent elements. Some similarities exist between the different programs, but each one has unique components. As such, each program should be evaluated separately based on federal requirements and state-specific elements.
Federal and state agencies have developed minimum requirements for individuals certifying applications and reports for various environmental programs. These requirements may be based on job titles, level of responsibility, and/or delegation of those responsibilities based on corporate procedures.
Regardless of the program, it is recommended that individuals with responsibilities over these programs ensure that applications and reports are signed appropriately.
About the Author
Paul Simonetta is a vice president and senior project manager at Triton Environmental, Inc. Guilford, Conn., with 18 years of combined environmental compliance experience in industrial manufacturing and consulting. He received his bachelor of science degree from Fairfield University and his master of science in environmental science from the University of New Haven. One of Simonetta’s areas of expertise is in wastewater management and permitting. For more information, contact him at (203) 458-7200, extension 34.