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Safety Management

EPA Regulations and ISO Standards Distinction

Quick Tips #358

This document is intended to provide information on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations and ISO 14001 environmental-management system standards from the International Standards Organization. It is important to make the distinction between a standard concerned with product quality, facilitating trade, and safeguarding consumers, and a regulation which is a law that contains requirements passed by the U.S. Congress and enforced by the EPA.

EPA Regulations

Congress passes laws, called acts, to govern the United States. Once an act is passed, the U.S. House of Representatives standardizes the law's text and publishes it in the United States Code or USC. Frequently, laws do not include or specify details to explain how businesses, individuals or state and local governments will follow or comply with the law. Congress grants authorities—in this case, the EPA—the power to create regulations that outline requirements for air, ground and water, and what is legal or permitted. The EPA then enforces the regulations.

For example, the EPA regulates the limits on hazardous air pollutants as stipulated in the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act was incorporated into the USC as Title 42, Chapter 85. Emission factors are discussed in section 130 of the Clean Air Act. This part of the act can be used to derive an estimate of the polluting emissions from a facility, based on industrial production levels, fuel combusted and the carbon content of the fuel. The EPA uses this information to regulate and enforce emissions limits.

ISO Standards

The International Standards Organization—or ISO, from the Greek word for equal—develops ISO standards. These standards are developed to provide a common technological language between suppliers and their customers to achieve international standardization. This is accomplished by developing specifications and criteria to be applied in a consistent, uniform manner for classifying materials, manufacturing and supplying products, testing and analysis, the use of terminology and the provision of services. The ISO states that its standards intend to:

  • make manufacturing and supplying products and services more efficient, safer and cleaner
  • facilitate trade between countries and make it more fair
  • provide government with a technical base for health, safety and environmental legislation, and conformity assessment

The ISO develops and forms standards that are meant to benefit the world.

ISO standards are developed by national delegations chosen by the ISO national member institute for the country concerned. The national delegations are comprised of experts from the industrial, technical and business sectors, and government agencies, and consumer academic and nongovernmental organizations may join.

ISO standards for environmental issues are listed as ISO 14001. These are international standards intended for any organization, large or small, whatever its product or service, in any sector of activity, and whether it is a business enterprise, a public administration or a governmental department.

The ISO standards are not laws, but are voluntarily followed to establish international credibility. For example, 175 experts from 45 countries and various organizations formulated the 14064 International Green House Gas accounting and verification standard. These experts aimed to provide a clear and consistent directive in reporting greenhouse-gas emissions. An explanation and outline of this particular standard, for comparison to EPA regulations can be seen at

ISO standards are voluntary standards that governmental bodies may adopt as regulations that concern the health and safety of their citizens and environments.

Commonly Asked Questions

Q. Is my business compliant with environmental regulations if we conform to ISO 14001?

A. Conforming to ISO 14001 does not necessarily mean that your company is compliant with U.S. EPA regulations. If your business is in the United States, you must comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws. You may not choose to follow ISO standards instead of EPA regulations. If you conduct international business, you might need ISO certification if your partnering company or its country requires ISO compliance.


Environmental (EPA) laws, regulations and guidance

International Standards Organization

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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