Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources


Air management Air permitting: Frequently asked questions

What business activities could cause my business to need an air permit?
  • use or manufacture of adhesives, paints, inks, other solvents or solvent containing materials;
  • heating with any fuels (not including electricity); or
  • any grinding, sanding, welding, material handling or any other activity that creates dust (particulate matter) or fumes.
What is an air permit, anyway?

Air permits are legal documents that itemize operation and federal and state emission limits, monitoring, record keeping and reporting requirements for larger air pollution sources. The Department of Natural Resources issues several types of permits, including traditional construction and operation permits, as well as general permits and registration permits. Traditional permits include all the specific air regulations that a source is expected to comply with. General Permits and Registration Permits contain all the air regulations that apply to the category of industry which they cover.

Prior to issuing a permit, Department of Natural Resources staff write a "Preliminary Determination" document that allows us to make a decision about whether to allow this type of operation to start or continue to operate. Staff usually perform source-specific modeling of the pollutants listed in the permit application before issuing a permit for a source. All these documents are public and can be viewed at the local Air Management office. Copies are also available for a small photocopying fee. The public has the right to comment on the permits prior to issuance. A public notice is printed in the local newspaper in the area where the facility is located, which starts a 30-day public comment period. Operation permits are scheduled to be renewed every five years.

Registration Permits and General permits are issued to cover source categories instead of individual sources. These permits undergo the same review and public comment processes as traditional permits. After they are issued, facilities fill out questionnaire-like applications to ensure that they meet the eligibility requirements of the General or Registration Permit they are applying for. The department may then "grant coverage" under the permit. Coverage decisions must be made within 15 days of DNR's receipt of an application. Registration Permits do not need to be renewed. General Permits are renewed every 5 years.

Why do some facilities have permits and others don't?

All facilities that emit air pollution need an air pollution control permit unless they can show they are exempt. The air program is divided into a construction permit program and an operation permit program. Construction permits must be issued before a new facility can begin breaking ground or before existing facilities add or change equipment. These permits authorize construction projects for up to 18 months before they expire. The construction permit conditions then roll into operation permits. Operation permits are issued to cover the continued operation of an entire facility. They contain all the regulations that cover any existing equipment as well as the regulations from construction permits.

Many facilities are exempt from construction and/or operation permit requirements. Some facilities are exempt based on what they do. Others are exempt based on the amount of air pollution emitted. Usually exemptions involve a combination of the type of facility and the amount of emissions. DNR's permit primer, the web site where you are currently located, is an online tool that leads both existing facilities and new operations through the process of figuring out if a permit is needed. If you prefer to talk to a staff person, contact your DNR service center and ask for an air program permit engineer. Small businesses can also visit the Small Business Environmental Assistance Program web site or contact SBEAP by phone at 1-855-889-3021.