California Environmental Laws

In California, state and federal environmental laws affect business and individuals in a multitude of ways.  Businesses need to be extremely sensitive to environmental liabilities because environmental problems can cause businesses to suffer huge financial losses.  Environmental laws regulate a broad range of environmental concerns such as managing dangerous chemicals and disposing toxic wastes.  There are several other issues, including starting new operations and protecting workers from dangerous chemicals in the workplace.  Businesses must comply with all of these regulations in order to avoid serious expenses and liabilities.

Regulatory Agencies
There are several governmental agencies that implement environmental laws in California.  The California Environmental Protection Agency(CEPA) is responsible for a large number of California's environmental programs.  For example, these include the State Water Resources Control Board, the Integrated Waste Management Board, the Air Resources Board, and several regional water quality boards.  CEPA is responsible for a variety of other agencies, including the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Department of Pesticide Regulation.  A variety of other state agencies regulate the environment and work with CEPA.

The California Resources Agency administers the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  CEQA requires preparation of an environmental report for major projects.  These reports must address the benefits and concerns relating to each individual project.  In the event that the report determines that the project in question has no significant environmental effects and is not exempt from CEQA, the lead agency must adopt a negative declaration confirming the determination.  Applicants typically pay the costs of environmental assessments.

The California Office of Planning and Research includes the State Clearing House (SCH) which is a responsible for coordinating state and local review of projects.  The SCH permits the office to determine the necessary permits for a project.  The office provides a handbook specifying the requirements for project permits.

Water Quality
Businesses are responsible for the impact of their operations on water quality.  Administration of water quality programs is allocated among nine regional water quality control boards which report to the CEPA.  These boards adopt regional water quality control plans, impose waste discharge requirements and manage other water quality control concerns subject to state review.  The California Water Resources Control Board creates state policies for water quality control under federal and state water quality laws.

California citizens may use water for beneficial purposes, however certain water uses require permits.  When reviewing permit applications, the Board must consider the needs of the project, existing uses and other environmental concerns.  Certain water usage may conflict with other environmental interests. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Control Board recognize the need to protect marine life by limiting water supplies to urban and agricultural users in Southern California.  In addition, it is critical to protect the California coastline.

National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits are required for anyone who intends to emit any pollutant into state surface waters, including cooling water and air-conditioning or heat-pump water. If the discharge goes to a public sewer, NPDES permits are not required, except for certain types of industries. Federal delegation of the NPDES permit program both for firms and for federal facilities rests with the Board rather than the regional water quality control boards, but facility operators seeking such permits should submit their applications to the appropriate regional board.Air Pollution
Regulation of air pollution in California focuses upon the limitation on industry emissions of airborne pollutants harmful to humans, animals and vegetation. Air quality is regulated by the California Air Resources Board ("CARB") proposes regulations but individual air quality management districts have discretion regarding the application of the rules relative to the air quality severity and other concerns. CARB'S fundamental purpose involves the review of district plans and integration into the state plan. Air pollution controls in California are the most advanced in the nation.  Over 40 years ago, California regulated tailpipe emissions.  In California, CARB regulates airborne toxic substances.  Businesses generating toxic substances must submit reports regarding their air emissions to local air pollution control districts.  The districts send risk assessments to the Department of Health Services.  When risks are significant, exposed residents must be notified.

Pollutant emissions may be generated directly or indirectly.  For example, indirect sources involve roads and emissions generated due to heavy traffic related to businesses such as hotels and shopping centers.  Direct emissions are generated by buildings, machinery and businesses which emit noxious airborne wastes.  Anyone operating a facility emitting pollutants is required to comply with air pollution controls.  This course of action typically necessitates a permit which typically requires a half year to process.

If a business does not generate direct pollution, permits may still be required.  Pollutants such as odors and dust moved by natural air movement from businesses and smoke from open burning are controlled.  Firms are required to notify the local air pollution control district board of releases that could endanger human health or property or create a public nuisance.  Businesses must take steps to prevent further releases.  For example, operations that involve incinerators, boilers, generators, solvent coatings, grain elevators, concrete plants and sand and gravel and building demolition are captured.

Hazardous Waste
Hazardous waste involves waste which may generate illness or death or may be dangerous to human health.  These wastes may display hazardous attributes such as flammability, oxidization, corrosion or toxicity.  The majority of businesses dispose wastes through licensed haulers which transport wastes to authorized storage, treatment, recycling and disposal facilities.

Hazardous waste management is handled by the Department of Toxic Substances Control.  The Department develops criteria to identify hazardous waste, and produces an inventory of hazardous wastes which can be reasonably recycled by businesses.

Hazardous waste generators need an EPA identification number and a license and must submit annual disclosure statements.  Hazardous waste transporters must have EPA identification numbers and be registered to haul hazardous waste.  Large quantity generators are subject to additional emergency requirements.  If a spill occurs, the emergency coordinator is required to clean up the spill and call the National Response Center.

Employee Right-To-Know
Under various California laws and regulations, employers are required to evaluate their workplaces for hazardous substances and provide information and training to workers about the substances employees may encounter.  Written information regarding the hazards must be readily available to staff, and labeling of substances must conform to definite requirements.

Other Topics - Email or Call Our OfficeCommunity Right to Know
Superfund Solid Waste
Special Environmental Categories
Infectious Waste
Toxic Torts
Real Estate Transactions

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