Enforcing California’s Environmental Laws
California's environmental laws are enforced by a matrix of state and local agencies, each charged with enforcing the laws governing a specific media such as air, water, hazardous waste, solid waste, and pesticide laws.
The California Air Resources Board (ARB) coordinates California’s efforts to achieve health-based federal and state air quality standards. ARB focuses its efforts on reducing emissions from a growing universe of emission sources, including mobile and “area” sources.
In addition to ARB, 35 Local Air Pollution Districts address air pollution at the local level. Each district establishes and enforces air pollution regulations in order to attain and maintain all state and federal ambient air quality standards, including controlling emissions from stationary sources of air pollution.
The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and its nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards protect the waters of the state by ensuring compliance with clean water laws, issuing permits, developing basin plans, monitoring water quality, and taking enforcement actions against illegal discharges of pollutants into waters, including the regulation of underground tanks. The Water Boards also regulate and enforce the state’s water rights.
Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is responsible for the inspection and enforcement of permitted hazardous waste facilities; hazardous waste generators and onsite treaters; transportable treatment units; transporters; and electronic waste recyclers, processors, and collectors.
Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPA) are responsible for implementing the following local environmental regulatory programs.
- Hazardous Materials Release Response Plans and Inventories (Business Plans)
- California Accidental Release Prevention
- Underground Storage Tank
- Aboveground Petroleum Storage Tank Spill Prevention Plans
- Hazardous Waste Generator and Onsite Hazardous Waste Treatment
- Uniform Fire Code: Hazardous Material Management Plans
Summaries of some local enforcement actions are available.
As the lead agency for implementation of the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (Proposition 65), the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s (OEHHA) responsibilities include evaluating and maintaining the list of chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive toxicity and developing “safe harbor” levels of exposure to listed chemicals. The California Attorney General participates in enforcement of Proposition 65, as well.
The Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) evaluates and registers pesticide products; licenses commercial pesticide applicators, dealers, and advisers; monitors the environment; and tests produce for pesticide residue. DPR also verifies that pesticides produced or sold in the state adhere to required standards, investigating human health and environmental episodes, and enforcing pesticide use laws and regulations jointly with County Agricultural Commissioners who serve as the primary local enforcement agents for pesticide laws and regulations.
As the state’s leading authority on recycling, waste reduction, and product reuse, the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) is charged with overseeing numerous programs regulating beverage container recyclers, solid waste landfills, tire businesses, and monitoring the recycled content of newsprint and plastic containers.
Federal--United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA)
U.S. EPA Region 9 oversees federal environmental enforcement in the Pacific Southwest, including California, on issues relating federal air, water, waste, pesticides, and toxics statutes.
CEQA and EIR Enforcement
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible. CalEPA is not authorized to enforce CEQA's requirements, nor can it compel another public agency to perform CEQA differently. For this reason, inquiries and complaints regarding CEQA compliance for a proposed project and/or failure to prepare an Environmental Impact Report must be made directly to the public agency responsible for the project. Visit California Natural Resources Agency for information on CEQA and its requirements.
Other Enforcement Resources and Organizations
- Environmental Task Forces: CalEPA encourages the creation and support of local and regional task forces dedicated to the deterrence, detection, investigation and prosecution of environmental violations.
- Western States Project: This regional association promotes the effective enforcement of state and local environmental statutes and regulations with a strong emphasis on criminal enforcement. (The Regional Associations operate the Regional Associations Information Network (R@IN), a password protected web site designed specifically for the environmental enforcement professional.)
- California District Attorneys Association (CDAA): CDAA serves the needs and promotes the interests of California's prosecutors. It provides a forum for the exchange of information and serves as a source of continuing legal education for its membership.
- California Hazardous Materials Investigators Association: A nonprofit organization that encourages cooperation and coordination of environmental crime investigations conducted by enforcement and administrative agencies.
- California CUPA Forum
We are always looking for ways to improve our efforts. Please send any suggestions or concerns to Jessica Diedesch.