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Contact information
For information about the Small Business Environmental Assistance Program, contact:
Small Business Hotline
Toll free: 855-889-3021

Air permit types for small businesses

Certain regulations are enacted to minimize the amount of pollution present in the air we breathe. For Wisconsin, both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Natural Resources implement and enforce a range of air pollution regulations. To enforce these regulations, the DNR issues air pollution permits to a wide range of businesses.

Businesses with emissions of air pollution above certain thresholds must have an air pollution permit to construct, modify and operate. Knowing whether you need a permit, submitting an application, and operating under your air pollution permit is a complex process. Many small businesses may be exempt from needing permits, whether operation or construction permits or both. If you are not exempt but still have relatively low emissions, you may be eligible for a registration permit. The registration permit is specifically geared towards smaller businesses that have very low air pollution emissions. However, it is important to verify this as not all small businesses will qualify.

It is important to note that if your construction or modification project requires a permit, you need to obtain the permit before starting any construction activities. Review the following information to determine how the air pollution permit requirements apply to your business. Even if you don't need a permit, other air pollution requirements may apply. As you read through this information, it may be helpful to have the Air Program Acronyms (SB-101) [PDF] list on hand.

How to get started on the air permit process

  • To get started, review the information under each tab in the box below to understand the basics concerning the various permits applicable to small businesses, including application deadlines, definitions and who to contact for more assistance.
  • Calculate the air pollution emissions from your facility or planned construction project. See below for links on resources to help you with air pollution calculations.
  • Review the Small air sources and the Air permit exemptions pages to learn about the options for businesses with low emissions.
  • The Air permit options [PDF] table gives you a quick look at which permits might apply to your situation. Always check the rules [exit DNR] or contact SBEAP staff for more details.
  • The DNR permit primer Air Pollution section can also help you walk through the process of determining if you are exempt or which permit option will be best for your facility.
  • Check out the air permits glossary for definitions of frequently used terms in the DNR’s Air Management Program related to air permits.

Air pollution permitting process

Federal and state laws require all air pollution sources in Wisconsin to have a permit unless the source is determined to be exempt. Review the Exemptions web page for information on operations or activities that may be exempt from the requirement to have a permit. It is important to note that even if exempt from needing a permit, there are state and federal requirements that might apply to a company.

The permitting process is designed to be transparent. Almost all permit-related documents are open records, including applications, modeling analyses and permit drafts. Input from the public and the permit applicant is encouraged throughout the process and can affect the content of the permit.


Permit to construct, reconstruct or modify your business

A construction permit is required prior to beginning any construction, modification, expansion or replacement of an air pollution source. Once issued a construction permit, a company is allowed to perform that construction, modification, expansion or replacement and then operate the source for an initial trial period. Then the company is issued an operation permit which allows operation for extended periods. The trial period under a construction permit is used to test equipment and demonstrate compliance with permit conditions. The source may be entirely new or part of an existing facility. Administrative code requirements for construction permits are found in chapter NR 406, Wis. Adm. Code [PDF exit DNR].

If you have a business that installed equipment after 1979 or recently started up certain equipment or activities and did not receive an air pollution construction permit for the equipment or activities, you may want to review the following documents to see if you are in compliance with the requirement to obtain a permit prior to construction, reconstruction or modification.

Fees for construction permits

The fee for a construction permit depends on the complexity of the permit review. An application fee of $7500 must be submitted with any permit application, regardless of the complexity of the permit review. If the DNR decides a permit is required, the application fee will be deducted from the final permit review bill. If the final review fee is less than the application fee, the remainder will be refunded. If no permit is required, the application fee is refunded.

The cost for a construction permit varies depending on the facility and type of permit required. Some of the possible review costs may include:

  • $3000 base fee for minor source review
  • $800 per emission source, when two or more are reviewed
  • $1000 for an air quality analysis for a minor source or minor modification
  • $5000 for expedited review of minor source (speeds up the process but is not required)

A full listing of the fees is found in NR 410 [PDF exit DNR], Wis. Adm. Code.

Construction permit waiver

A construction permit waiver can be issued to certain sources in situations where they can demonstrate undue hardship if the waiver is not granted. Undue hardship may result from adverse weather conditions, catastrophic damage of existing equipment, a substantial economic or financial hardship that may preclude the project, or another unique condition on a case-by-case basis.

The waiver request should detail the situation necessitating the request. There is also a $300 non-refundable fee required. Submittal of a complete construction permit application to the DNR is one condition of gaining approval of a waiver request.

For more information about the construction permit waivers, contact:
Ron Binzley
Air management engineer

How long until the permit is issued

After the application is complete, the DNR will prepare a preliminary decision document stating whether the permit application will be approved or denied. The document must be prepared within 90 days from the date the DNR considers the application complete for minor sources, or within 120 days for major sources. A 30‐day public participation period is required for each permit following the preliminary decision, and a public hearing may be held following the public participation period if requested or the level of public interest warrants.

For general questions about construction permits, contact your local DNR office


Permit to operate a source of air pollution

Unless it is exempt, any company that has processes or activities that generate air pollution is required to obtain an Air Pollution Operation Permit. The operation permit covers all equipment and activities that result in air emissions. As a result of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, many small businesses are required to obtain these air permits.

An Air Operation Permit is basically a contract between you, DNR and the public. The permit is a legal document identifying all state and federal air pollution regulations that apply to your facility. In your permit, you and the DNR set mutually agreeable conditions for all the regulated processes within your facility that generate air pollution. Those conditions tell you how to comply with the different regulations.

Whether your business needs an operation permit could depend on where your business is located and the kinds and quantities of pollutants your business puts into the air. Moreover, certain processes or activities may be exempt from operation permit requirements. Some commonly regulated processes include: manufacturing lines, painting or coating operations (spray booth, dip coating, hand applied stains), boilers and furnaces, and wood processing. These are types of small businesses that may need operation permits:

  • Lithographic printers
  • Solvent parts cleaners
  • Industrial adhesive applications (such as kitchen counter top contact cement)
  • Wood furniture manufacturing
  • Metal finishing operations

Types of operation permits

If your evaluations of the exemption options show you need an air operation permit, your next step is to identify what type of permit you'll need. You do this by calculating your facility's "maximum theoretical emissions" (MTE) and "potential to emit" (PTE). Links are provided above for resources to help you with these calculations. Once you know your emissions, based on which threshold you meet you can apply for the appropriate permit:

  • A "Title V Permit" (also called a "Part 70" Permit) is for businesses with a PTE over one of the threshold values:
    • any single criteria pollutant (PM, SO2, NOX, CO) or volatile organic compounds (VOC) above 100 tons per year
    • a single federally regulated hazardous air pollutant above 10 tons per year
    • total of all federally regulated hazardous air pollutants above 25 tons per year
  • A "Synthetic Minor" permit is for a business who has the potential to be a major source, but agrees by permit conditions to stay under major source emission limits. This could be done by requesting restrictions on hours of operation, type or amount of material processed, etc., to limit PTE. The usual synthetic minor limit is around 99 tons per year. You may also select synthetic minor limits at less than 80 tons per year (called “SM80”) for less stringent compliance and enforcement policies and lower fees.
  • If your business is not a major source, you will need a "Minor Source Operation Permit" (also called a "Non-Part 70 Permit"). There are multiple minor source operation permit options available. Review the Registration and General permit tabs on this page for more details.


There are no direct fees required to be issued an operation permit. However, everyone who is required to get an operation permit is required to pay annual fees. Review the pages Annual fee schedule for Title V Sources required to have an air permit and Annual air pollution fees for Non-Title V sources required to have an air permitfor details.

How long until the permit is issued

The DNR processes source specific operation permit applications as quickly as possible given staffing conditions. The backlog of applications to review is nearly eliminated.

Before you receive a final operation permit, the department issues a draft permit for public review. This is also the company's opportunity to provide feedback on conditions in the permit, and whether they may be difficult to comply with. Also, you can begin to prepare to comply with the permit based on the draft by developing documentation that will be needed. This documentation may include:

  • Develop tracking sheets to be used on the unit or process line to collect compliance records.
  • Setup a compliance calendar, including reminders of regular inspections, reports, and other deadlines.
  • Setup a folder for all compliance records. Collect all "one time records", e.g., physical stack parameters, and verify compliance. Add a date and signature to records that you verify.
  • Prepare any plans required by the permit. These may include: Malfunction Prevention and Abatement Plan, Fugitive Dust Control Plan, and Standard Operating Procedures.

Final permit is issued

DO NOT just file the permit away as your ticket to operate and then forget about it in the file cabinet. The final permit outlines all the conditions you will be required to meet on a regular basis. As with your draft permit, pay attention to all the little details. Then make sure you have a system in place that will help you show DNR, or anyone else who asks, that you are meeting each condition in your permit.

There is a five year life to Title V (major source) operation permits, but all other operation permits do not expire. It is a good idea to reread your permit at regular intervals to make sure you haven’t missed anything. If you ever have any questions about how to comply with a certain requirement, contact your local DNR compliance contact.

Registration and General

Registration permits

A registration permit allows small emitters to quickly register themselves for a permit in return for keeping emissions low. The permits contain facility-wide emission caps as well as monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting requirements. Registration permits have a review time of no more than 15 days on all applications received by the DNR. To learn more about which type of Registration Permit may fit your operation, review the information on the Air Program Permit Options page.

General permits available for certain industries

A general permit is intended for facilities that:

  • perform the same or similar operations;
  • emit similar air contaminants;
  • use the same or similar emission control technologies; and
  • are subject to the same limitations, standards and requirements.

General construction permits and operation permits have been developed for asphalt plants, rock crushing facilities and various types of printers. The general permits for printers are for natural minor sources, synthetic minor sources and major sources, and include lithographic heatset (web) offset, lithographic non-heatset web, lithographic non-heatset sheetfed, screen printing and digital printing. The general operation permits for the crushing facilities and hot mix asphalt plants do not expire. To learn more about which type of General Permit may fit your operation, review the information on the Air Program Permit Options page.

Last revised: Tuesday July 31 2018