California Environmental Agencies

July 11, 2018

Many businesses in California have processes and/or equipment that are subject to environmental regulations. The requirements can be complex and subject to frequent changes. In this post, I will list the environmental agencies that regulate common business activities and explain what activities and equipment they typically regulate.


Certified Unified Program Agency (CUPA)

Depending on where you live, this agency is usually the local fire authority or county health department. You can look up the CUPA for your business here. CUPAs have jurisdiction over seven programs in California, they are:


  1. Aboveground Petroleum Storage Act (APSA) Program

  2. Area Plans for Hazardous Materials Emergencies

  3. California Accidental Release Prevention (CalARP) Program

  4. Hazardous Materials Release Response Plans and Inventories (Business Plans)

  5. Hazardous Material Management Plan (HMMP) and Hazardous Material Inventory Statements (HMIS) (California Fire Code)

  6. Hazardous Waste Generator and Onsite Hazardous Waste Treatment (tiered permitting) Programs

  7. Underground Storage Tank Program

  8. In addition, some CUPAs also regulate Medical Waste


So, if you have hazardous materials in sufficient amounts, any amount of hazardous waste (including Universal Waste), an underground storage tank, above ground petroleum storage and possibly medical waste, you are going to be regulated and inspected by your local CUPA. CUPAs do not create their own environmental programs. Their responsibilities are delegated from other state agencies, including the State Water Resource Control Board, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, CAL FIRE and the CalEPA.


Air Pollution

Mobile sources, such as cars, trucks and portable equipment are regulated at the state level by the Air Resources Board (ARB).  So, if your business operates on-road or off-road diesel equipment or portable equipment that has a potential to emit air contaminants, you are obligated to comply with various regulations promulgated and enforced by this agency. Enforcement of Air Resources Board on-road diesel regulations often occurs at truck stops. In addition, law enforcement officers have the authority to pull over commercial trucks for inspection without probable cause. The ARB also regulates off-road diesel-powered equipment over 25 HP and portable equipment with diesel engines that produce more than 50 HP. However, enforcement of these regulations is often delegated to local air districts.


Speaking of air districts, they are responsible for both regulation and enforcement of stationary air pollution sources. Air pollution control districts in California are divided by “air basins.” This means a land area that has geographic characteristics and experiences climate conditions that confine air pollution to that land area. So, ARB is responsible (mostly) for mobile sources that can move anywhere in the state. Air districts are responsible (mostly) for stationary equipment that only pollutes the immediate geographic area, which they are responsible for and have jurisdiction over.


So, if you operate a gasoline fueling site, boilers, stationary diesel-powered generators, gas turbines, apply coatings (paints) or adhesives, run a dry cleaner, have a solvent parts washer or any one of a long list of stationary activities, you can expect a visit from your local air pollution control district inspector.


Storm Water

Storm water is getting increased attention as of late. You may not have been inspected at this point. But, if you operate a business in California that is subject to local CUPA or air district regulations and enforcement, your business probably also has stormwater requirements to meet. Determining jurisdictional control of your storm water requirements can be difficult. On one hand if you conduct any one of 10 federally defined categories of industrial activities. Your facility is subject to the Industrial General Permit and must apply for coverage. On the other hand, if you do not conduct any of the federally defined categories of industrial activities, but you conduct any one of the activities listed in table 1, your site is probably regulated by a municipal permit that will require you to implement a minimum set of standards and practices.


Other Agencies

There are several other environmental agencies that you may encounter: The Department of Toxic Substances Control, Department of Pesticide Regulation and your Regional Water Quality Control Board. But, if you can determine what your local storm water, CUPA, air district and the California ARB require, and can implement a plan to meet those requirements, you will have 95% of your environmental compliance requirements handled. 




Table 1. Commercial Activities Regulated by Municipal Storm Water Permits

i. Automobile repair, maintenance, fueling, or cleaning;

ii. Airplane repair, maintenance, fueling, or cleaning;

iii. Boat repair, maintenance, fueling, or cleaning;

iv. Equipment repair, maintenance, fueling, or cleaning;

v. Automobile and other vehicle body repair or painting;

vi. Mobile automobile or other vehicle washing;

vii. Automobile (or other vehicle) parking lots and storage facilities;

viii. Retail or wholesale fueling;

ix. Pest control services;

x. Eating or drinking establishments, including food markets;

xi. Mobile carpet, drape or furniture cleaning;

xii. Cement mixing or cutting;

xiii. Masonry;

xiv. Painting and coating;

xv. Botanical or zoological gardens and exhibits;

xvi. Landscaping;

xvii. Nurseries and greenhouses;

xviii. Golf courses, parks and other recreational areas/facilities;

xix. Cemeteries;

xx. Pool and fountain cleaning;

xxi. Marinas;

xxii. Portable sanitary services;

xxiii. Building material retailers and storage;

xxiv. Animal facilities; and

xxv. Power washing services.


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