σ subunit of Escherichia coli RNA polymerase is known to stimulate specific RNA chain initiation. Rifampicin, an inhibitor of RNA chain initiation, binds to a single site on the β subunit of RNA polymerase. We have used the fluorescence energy transfer technique to deduce proximity relationships of σ subunit and the rifampicin binding site on the enzyme. Isolated σ subunit was covalently labeled with fluorescent donors in two ways: specific labeling of a single sulfhydryl residue with N-(iodoacetylaminoethyl)-5-naphthylamine-1-sulfonate (1,5-I-AENS) and nonspecific labeling on the surface of the protein with dansyl chloride (Dns-Cl) adsorbed on Celite. The labeled σ subunits were biologically active and formed a stoichiometric complex with core polymerase. The efficiency of energy transfer was obtained from the fluorescence intensity and the excited-state lifetime of the σ-labeled holoenzyme in the presence and absence of rifampicin, which served as an energy acceptor. The transfer efficiency (2%) from AENS to rifampicin placed AENS somewhere between 42 and 85 Å away from the rifampicin binding site. The rotational mobility of the donor was determined by nanosecond fluorescence depolarization spectroscopy, while the acceptor orientation was assumed to be fixed at some unknown angle. The efficiency measured for energy transfer from Dns to rifampicin was 10% in the presence of 0.2 M KCl. The distance from the surface of subunit to the rifampicin binding site was calculated to be 27–38 Å for a model having a randomly distributed and oriented array of donors on the surface of a spherical σ subunit of 31-Å radius. Our results indicate that rifampicin does not inhibit the initiation of transcription by RNA polymerase through a direct interaction with σ subunit. In addition, energy transfer measurements under low salt conditions suggest that in RNA polymerase dimer the two rifampicin binding sites are symmetric with respect to each σ subunit.