State Offers Customers Help on Environmental Rules

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Environmental regulations: love 'em or leave here _ that's the message businesses are getting from federal and state authorities.

It's doubtful you're going to fall in love with environmental regulations, and you're probably pretty partial to staying around these parts. Therefore, a nodding acquaintance with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality could be your ace in the hole.

The department feels your pain. More accurately, Judy Duncan, director of the Customer Services Division, is anxious to inform the business community that today's DEQ stands ready to help you blaze a trail through the confusing and diverging requirements.

The environmental quality department was created by 1993 legislation, to consolidate regulation handled by a number of state agencies. Duncan came to her present position from the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

The Customer Services Division can help companies devise pollution prevention programs, provide information on new requirements under the federal Clean Air Act and streamline the process for obtaining water and air quality permits, she said.

"A couple of things we were doing before, we're continuing to do. One is in the area of pollution prevention," she said. "Pollution prevention is a concept where you try to examine your manufacturing process or business process to see if you can alter it to generate less waste to dispose of."

The customer assistance program offers workshops, training meetings and environmental audits for businesses. "We have a legislative mandate where, if we find a violation, unless that violation is an imminent threat to health or safety we can't tell the regulatory people about it," Duncan said.

"We can come in and provide assistance in that regard, and unless we find a really serious violation, you don't have to worry that we're going to tell the regulatory arm" of the DEQ.

Duncan said small businesses are gradually being included under requirements of the federal Clean Air Act amendments.

"A good example is dry cleaners _ in the past, they didn't need air quality permits," she said. "Auto body shops in the past haven't had to have them, but because of solvents and degreasing operations, they're probably going to have to.

"We know those things (regulations) exist, and we understand what steps have to be taken to become part of the program. If they need technical assistance figuring out the best route on what to do, we can provide it through the small business assistance program."

A goal of the Department of Environmental Quality is to have a single environmental permit to cover air quality discharge, water quality discharge, solid waste emission _ you name it. This will be accomplished in stages.

First to be overhauled is the public participation phase of permitting.

"In the past, it has been radically different," she said. If a company had to have a public meeting in connection with an air quality permit, it would be totally different from the kind of meeting required for a water quality permit.

"We're holding all the meetings through our customer assistance program. We can standardize the way the meetings are held," Duncan said. "We also can provide assistance to the permitee," such as explaining the reasoning behind public hearings. "We also can assist groups of citizens who contact the agency and are concerned about something," she said. …