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.

Air

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 sources; goods movement sources; gasoline, diesel and other fuels; cargo tanks used to transport these products; and “area” sources which individually emit small quantities of pollutants, but collectively emit significant emissions, including chemically formulated consumer products, aerosol coating products, and composite wood products.

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. The districts control emissions from and permit stationary sources of air pollution. They also implement transportation control measures for their respective regions.

Water

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 in surface and ground waters, including the regulation of underground tanks. The Water Boards also regulate and enforce the state’s water rights.

Local waste water officials (see listing under county or city)

Hazardous Waste

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.

Carcinogens/Reproductive Toxins

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.

Pesticides

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.

Solid Waste

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

CEQA is a self-enforcing statute. CEQA contains procedural and substantive requirements that public agencies must follow before they can approve an action that may potentially adversely affect the environment. If you are concerned that a public agency is not following CEQA's requirements, CEQA requires that you participate in its procedural process to make those concerns known directly to that public agency. If that public agency does not address your concerns to your satisfaction, then you may choose to hire an attorney and seek enforcement through private litigation, or call the Attorney General's Complaint Unit at: 1-800-952-5225 to ask if they are interested in litigating the matter.

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 compliance CEQA for a proposed project, and/or failure to prepare an Environmental Impact Report be made directly to the public agency responsible for the project. Information on CEQA and its requirements is available at a www.ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/.

Other CEQA Resources

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 Diane Trujillo at Dtrujill@calepa.ca.gov.


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Last updated: October 20, 2014
California Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.calepa.ca.gov
General Public Contact, cepacomm@calepa.ca.gov (916) 323-2514