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When making changes at a business, take steps to update environmental programs

When an existing regulated business makes a change, whether there is a new owner, a name change, or they plan to shut down part or all of the facility, there are steps that should be taken to evaluate the status of environmental permits issued to the owner as well as other reporting or notification requirements that apply to the business activities. During a property transfer all parties involved should understand their environmental responsibilities, whether that means updating agency records or ensuring environmental permits/licenses are transferred or withdrawn and a new application submitted. For programs that do not issue permits to facilities, it is important to maintain compliance demonstration practices so there are no gaps that result in deviations or violations of environmental standards. Conducting an Environmental Site Assessment may also be a good idea to make sure you have not missed any sources of past contamination.

This page will discuss the different requirements that may affect a business when making changes. For a description of the DNR programs that may affect any property, whether existing, redeveloped or undeveloped, go to Purchasing Property.

What needs to be done when making changes to a business (i.e., business name, new owner, closing down) that has environmental permits or requirements?

If you own an industrial or commercial facility that will be closing or has recently shut down, the DNR's Wisconsin Plant Recovery Initiative may be able to help you identify key environmental issues and permits that need to be addressed prior to shutting down. Staff can help the facility owner understand any environmental obligations and identify financial, liability and technical resources available. Environmental issues can be proactively addressed, liability assurance letters or exemptions can be provided and potential financial tools can be discussed, such as Wisconsin Assessment Monies (WAM) which provides site assessment services from a DNR assigned environmental consultant free of charge.

If conducting any demolition prior to the sale of the property, be sure to follow proper procedures for waste disposal.

If you are making changes at a business that was issued permits by DNR, then the programs issuing those permits should be notified regarding the new ownership or they may have a process to follow to transfer the permit. For more information on transferring permits, review the following pages:

How can you learn whether there are environmental permits or compliance obligations for the property?

The DNR issues permits for a wide range of operations, but for others the business must simply follow state or federal code. The following links either take you to a page with a list or searchable database of permits or connect to a page with information on the types of permits that may be needed and staff contacts to ask about requirements that apply to your property:

For more information on managing residual contamination, see the Environmental Liability page. Additional important details may be found in the Environmental Contamination & Your Real Estate (RR-973) guide.

Some programs issue general permits to categories of sources, and individual businesses covered by a general permit may not be identified in all program databases listed above. Contact the DNR if you are not sure about whether a general permit may apply under one of these programs. You can search for a program contact on DNR's Staff Directory page by typing keywords in the subject description box.

There are no permits issued for businesses that generate hazardous waste, but there are multiple requirements that may apply depending on the quantity of wastes generated. Be sure to review information about current waste disposal practices at the business. More information on hazardous waste management can be found on Hazardous Waste.

Small businesses or other locations with a public drinking water supply, including sites such as schools, day cares, motels, taverns or churches with a well, are not issued a permit from the DNR but they are regulated by the DNR. DNR staff will inspect them on a periodic basis, and review monitoring data to see if there are water quality problems. For more information on public drinking water requirements, and whether they apply to your business, go to the DNR's Public Drinking Water.

If you are uncertain about what permits have been issued to the company you are considering purchasing, please contact the Business Support section to arrange a meeting with the DNR to discuss implications of the purchase.

What is an Environmental Site Assessment?

Conducting an Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is not a legal requirement but is often conducted prior to commercial or industrial property transactions in order to evaluate the risk for contamination. A Phase I Environmental Assessment involves research to determine how the property has been used in the past and if the uses may have caused contamination. During Phase II, samples are taken on the property if the Phase I assessment uncovered cause for concern. An environmental consultant will need to be hired to conduct these assessments.

If contamination is found, the responsible party must immediately report the findings to the DNR. The DNR may require a more thorough site investigation to determine the nature, degree, extent and source of the contamination and to determine what actions may be necessary to remediate the site. There is more information on the Brownfields Program ESA page.

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