October 8, 20180

Rhode Island is home to a variety of natural resources. The state environmental laws in Rhode Island are available online at: State of Rhode Island General Laws. These laws cover many interest areas. One of these interest areas is the air we breathe every day. The public policy here is to preserve, protect and improve our air resources, codified at RIGL §23-23-1. It’s called the Air Pollution Control Act. This statute gives the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) powers and duties related to clean air programs. Among these is the RIDEM’s duty to create and amend regulations to prevent, control, abate, and limit air pollution.

State Air Quality Regulations

The air quality regulations are used daily by RIDEM staff to issue and/or revoke orders prohibiting or abating air pollution. RIDEM, reviews plans, specifications, and other data related to construction, installation, or modification of any equipment that may become a source of air pollution. The review process is an important one.

In my experience, the state environmental laws on air quality are straightforward. I say this because of the review process issue. Under the statute, any person must first obtain a permit from RIDEM for operating air polluting equipment. Also, no source of air pollution can operate after a permit is denied. There is a distinction here. Two separate violations exist; one for failure to obtain a permit and another to operate the equipment without the permit.

Air Quality Permits

Once a permit is issued under the state environmental laws, there is also a process for revocation. A permit holder is allowed an opportunity to notice and hearing. In the course of that hearing, the burden of proof is on RIDEM. If RIDEM shows that the permit holder failed to comply with the state environmental laws, the permit may be revoked. Air permits may also be suspended, following this same outline.

If RIDEM wishes to revoke, suspend, or amend a current permit, there must first be a hearing. As with other state environmental laws, RIDEM must provide notice of the right to appeal. The notice includes the facts or conduct that RIDEM relies on. Notice of the right to a hearing is sent by mail to the permit holder.

Air Permit Violations

Violating the Air Pollution Control Act and related regulations carries a steep penalty. You face a maximum ten thousand dollars ($10,000) fine for each day during which the violation occurred.

A final and likely little-known element of Rhode Island’s Air Pollution Control Act – RIDEM has rights to enter property for inspection. Agents of RIDEM may “enter at all reasonable times in or upon any private or public property, except private residences…which [RIDEM] shall believe to be…an air pollution source…” RIGL §23-23-5(7).

This right of inspection is meant to preserve air quality. If the state believes there is an issue with air quality, the state is afforded an opportunity to make that determination in person.

Promoting the public health, welfare, and safety in Rhode Island is no easy job. The state environmental laws aimed at air quality are in place to assist with that job.

The attorneys at Desautel Browning Law are familiar with Rhode Island’s state environmental laws. To learn more, contact us today at 401.477.0023.

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