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Please note: This summary is provided to help you understand the regulations. Consult the references provided for links to the full text of the regulations.

Painting Operations - Repainting

Road Rail Air Water

Vehicle painting


Who is covered by the regulations?

Most transportation sector spray painting processes, including truck, locomotive, aircraft and ship repainting, are regulated and require permits from a state or federal agency. Many operations are required to have some form of controls to limit emissions of Volatile Organic Carbon (VOCs) and Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs).

If you are building a new facility to carry out an industrial process such as truck, rail car, aircraft, or boat/ship painting or repainting, or if you are making significant changes to your current process, it's best to assume that you need a permit. If you emit only small quantities of pollutants into the air, due to the nature of your process (for example, if your operations are restricted to powder coating), or if your emissions are otherwise restricted or controlled, you may be exempt from some requirements. But even if a permit is not required, you may still have to meet other obligations, such as reporting your emissions periodically or keeping your equipment and your records in good order (they may be subject to inspection).

What is the purpose of the regulations?

Repainting an 18-wheeler cab typically requires several gallons of paint, and repainting a ship requires several thousand times that much. Only a fraction of that material ends up in the final coating. Some of the solids ("overspray") and all of the solvents are released into the air, where they are either captured, or are emitted into the environment.

Once they are released into the atmosphere, paint solvents can react with sunlight and nitrogen oxides to generate ozone, a reactive form of oxygen that damages lung tissue. These effects can occur many miles downwind from the point of emission. The regulations are intended to ensure that the emissions from facilities located in a geographical area do not create the potential for serious health effects for people in areas affected by the emissions.


This section focuses on air pollution regulations. Spray painting operations often generate hazardous wastes such as waste paint/solvent, paint filters and shop rags. For assistance, see the following sections: Hazardous Waste Determination and Managing Hazardous Waste.

There is a rather complex web of regulations that affect spray painting operations, both at the federal and state levels. Standards for a given facility depend on multiple factors such as size, location, types of parts being painted, and the nature of the painting process. The purpose of this section is to provide an overview of federal regulations and guidelines that may affect a given spray painting operation. Ultimately, facilities must contact their state air pollution agency to determine if a permit is required and which requirements and standards must be met. Refer to the Air Pollution State Resource Locator for more information for your state.

The basis of most air pollution regulations is the Clean Air Act (CCA) and its amendments, including the Clean Air Act Amendments (CAA) of 1990. Some CAA regulations that specifically affect coating operations already exist and other regulations are under development.

The CAA is a federal law that has provisions for transferring responsibility for permitting and enforcement to state environmental agencies. As a result, most states have implemented air pollution control programs. Not all of the state programs are fully authorized to carry out all aspects of the CAA. As a result, coating operations in some states may need to comply with both state and federal rules. Also, within some states, there are regional authorities, usually termed Air Quality Districts that administer air regulations. Again, refer to the Air Pollution State Resource Locator for more information about your specific state air pollution control programs including links to state agencies. Check with your state agency to determine exactly which local agency you need to work with.

Of particular importance to coating operations are several types of federal standards that are listed below along with links to applicable documents:

  • New Source Performance Standards (NSPS). Nationally, uniform emission standards for new stationary sources fall within particular industrial categories. NSPS are based on the pollution control technology available to that category of industrial source. However, they do allow the affected industries the flexibility of devising a cost-effective means of reducing emissions. There are no NSPS that specifically impact transportation maintenance/repair spray painting. However, the NSPS that follows could be used by state agencies for the purpose of setting permit parameters:
  • National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). Under the Clean Air Act, as amended in 1990, EPA is required to regulate sources of listed Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects. On July 16, 1992, EPA published a list of industry groups (known as source categories) that emit one or more of these air toxics; several industrial surface coating categories were on this list. For listed categories of "major" sources (those that emit or have the potential to emit 10 tons/year or more of a listed pollutant or 25 tons/year or more of a combination of pollutants), the Clean Air Act directs EPA to develop National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs) that require the application of stringent air pollution reduction measures known as Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT). For spray painting operations at transportation repair/maintenance facilities, the most applicable NESHAPs are:
  • Control Technique Guidelines (CTGs). EPA has discretion to issue a Control Techniques Guideline (CTG) in lieu of a regulation if EPA determines that a CTG would be substantially as effective as a regulation in reducing VOC emissions which contribute to ozone levels in ozone nonattainment areas. Although not specifically defined in the Clean Air Act, a CTG is an EPA guidance document which triggers a responsibility under section 182(b)(2) for States to submit Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) rules for stationary sources of VOC as part of their State Implementation Plans (SIP's). The most applicable CTGs are:
  • Alternative Control Techniques (ACTs). A series of documents prepared by EPA to assist States in defining reasonable available control technology (RACT) for major sources of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). The documents provide information on the economic and technological feasibility of available techniques; and, in some cases, suggest limits on VOC emissions. The most applicable ACTs are:

Based in part on these federal regulations, at least 37 states and several local jurisdictions have developed specific regulations that control VOC emissions from these industrial operations.

Compliance Options

In the transportation sector, repair and maintenance facilities may carry out spray painting operations to recoat vehicles, vehicle components, trailers, aircraft, boats/ships, etc. Except for ship hull painting, this work is typically performed in partially or totally enclosed spray booths, equipped with temperature and humidity controls and air ventilation. Inlet air is usually filtered to prevent air borne dust from entering the workspace, and the outlet air is filtered to capture paint overspray.

Do I need a permit for my painting operation?

Whether you need a permit and the type of permit you may need depends on:

  • What substances you will put into the air, and how much of them.
  • Where you are located.
  • In some cases, what type of painting or coating operation you are carrying out (i.e., your "source category").

If your emissions are small enough and your operation does not fall into one of the regulated categories, you may be exempt from federal permit requirements. Your state or local agency may have other rules which apply to you. Even if you do not have to comply with any of the formal requirements described here, it might be to your advantage to consider changing the process to take advantage of new pollution prevention opportunities.

What types of permits will I need?

  • If you are building a new facility or installing a new process, or if you making significant modifications to an old one, you may need a construction permit.
  • If your total emissions are greater than specific threshold levels, or if you use certain specially regulated pollutants, you may also need an operating permit.

Which regulatory agency will issue my permit?

In general, the federal government (EPA) sets national air quality standards, and the states decide in detail how to meet those standards. Some states issue permits directly, and some have passed that responsibility to local agencies, or to special Air Quality Districts (AQDs). You may be able to determine the situation in your area from the agency descriptions in the Air Pollution State Regulations Locator, or by contacting a Small Business Ombudsman/Small Business Environmental Assistance Program (SBO/SBEAP) in your area.

What kind of information will I need to submit?

The form of the permit application will differ from state to state, but at minimum the agency will probably want to see:

  • An overall description of your process(es), including the raw materials and fuels going into the process, the emissions coming out of it, and the expected production rate and operating schedule.
  • A description of any air pollution control equipment you are using.
  • A plan for assuring that you are complying with the limits which will be established for your facility.

The agency will use your process description to determine what quantity of air pollutants your facility has the potential to emit. This is considered more reliable than actual emissions, since operating rates can vary depending on business conditions, no matter what they have been in the past.

The agency will look for a compliance plan that will assure them that your emissions are within the specified limits. This is generally not spelled out in advance -- you can suggest whatever methods make sense for your process, ranging anywhere from periodic inspections of equipment up to continuous monitoring. But you will have to satisfy the agency that your plan is reasonable.

Best Practices

By improving spray painting practices, facilities can decrease air emissions and hazardous waste generation while significantly cutting operating costs.

Best practices for spray painting vary depending on various factors, such as the types of parts being coated. In some cases, best practices are specified in the regulations as "required work practices" (e.g., Paint Stripping and Miscellaneous Surface Coating Operations NESHAP requires use of high volume, low pressure spray guns). Below are several links to best practices, either recommended or specified by EPA:

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More Resources

Small Business Environmental Assistance Program. Section 507 of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments requires each state establish a Small Business Environmental Assistance Program (SBEAP) to assist small businesses with environmental compliance and emissions reduction. Find your SBEAP state contact.

Paint and Coatings Resource Center - The Paint and Coatings Resource Center (PCRC) is maintained by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) and contains a considerable amount of compliance and pollution prevention information for painting and coating facilities. The PCRC is one of the Compliance Assistance Centers developed by industry-government partnerships, with support from the EPA Office of Compliance.

Shipbuilding and Repair - What You Need to Know to Comply. Compliance assistance fact sheet that provides and over view of the air pollution regulations.

Best Management Practices for Oregon Shipyards. Document prepared by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.