This is a question asked by many people in industry. In almost every state, you are required to obtain a state operating permit if you have an air emission source unlessthat source is specifically exempt by state regulations. An emission source would be any equipment or facility that is capable of emitting air contaminants to the atmosphere.
Different states have different exemptions. For example, in Illinois you are exempt from getting an air permit if your coating operation uses less than 5000 gallons of coating material including thinners (Illinois Title 35, subtitle B, chapter I, section 201.146(g)). If you have a print shop and you use less than 750 gallons of paint a year, you are exempt as well.
In southern California, the Air Quality Management District (AQMD)’s Rule 219 lists all the emission sources that are exempt from getting an air permit. For example, Rule 219(h) exempts printing operations that emit less than 3 lbs of VOC per day or 66 lbs of VOC per calendar month.
By the way, in every state and under the Clean Air Act, you must obtain a construction permit before you are allowed to install any air emission sources. Sometime they call it a pre-construction permit. If you have purchased a new piece of equipment that is an emission source, you are not allowed to bolt it to the ground or wire it up. You can unwrap it and have it sit on the shop floor while you are waiting for your construction permit to be approved. Many companies have been fined by EPA for installing equipment without a construction permit. The agency may even order you to uninstall the emission source and pay a fine and apply for a construction permit.
This is often a bone of contention between the environmental staff (you) and production staff (them). The production folks may take 3 years to decide on a new piece of equipment. Once they have purchased it, they want to install it and run it right away. This is where you say to them: “No, you can’t do that. We have to apply for a construction permit first and that may take a month or two.” If they were smart, they would have told you about the new equipment a month earlier before they take delivery of it so that you could start the permitting process.
That would be the ideal situation.
If you need the construction permit in a big hurry, you can pay the agency a fee to get on the “fast track”.