CalEPA’s History of Environmental Excellence

Top accomplishments from Office of the Secretary and six boards, departments and offices

Office of the Secretary | Air Resources Board | Department of Pesticide Regulation | Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery | Department of Toxic Substances Control | Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment | State Water Resources Control Board

Office of the Secretary

  • Environmental Justice Working Group: In June 2013, CalEPA announced the formation of a new agency-wide working group to improve compliance with state environmental laws in California communities most burdened by pollution.
  • Web Based Reporting: In 2012, CalEPA launched the nation’s largest web based reporting system for regulated hazardous waste facilities one year ahead of schedule. By bringing this reporting system into the 21st century, we are providing the right tools to our Certified Unified Program Agencies to regulate local businesses’ use, storage, handling and disposal of hazardous materials.
  • Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI): Launched the Green Chemistry Initiative in 2007 to reduce the toxins in everyday consumer products.  The GCI seeks to reduce or eliminate chemicals during the manufacturing, use and/or disposal of a product to seek safer alternatives. SB 509 and AB 1879 were subsequently passed in 2008 giving DTSC and OEHHA authority to implement two of its key provisions.
  • Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI): Successfully developed the EEI curriculum with a unique partnership between the State Board of Education, CalEPA, Natural Resources Agency and Heal the Bay to deliver 85 units of the nation’s first environment based curriculum free to California’s K-12 grades.
  • AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006: Successfully negotiated the passage of California’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction law which includes a host of various GHG reducing measures as well as a cap-and-trade program.
  • Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Awards (GEELA): In 1993, launched the first GEELA awards program to recognize California businesses for their entrepreneurial leadership in protecting both our environment and enhancing our economy.
  • Tribal Policy: In 2009, CalEPA adopted California’s first Tribal Policy to better communicate with California’s Tribes on common environmental issues.
  • Environmental Justice: In 2004, CalEPA adopted California’s first environmental justice interagency strategy which lays out a mission, vision and core values for environmental regulatory state boards, departments and offices. Subsequently, CalEPA adopted California’s first environmental justice action plan for action-oriented EJ priorities to protect vulnerable populations from environmental impacts.
  • Enforcement Initiative: Adopted the Enforcement Initiative in 2004 to begin to track environmental complaints, standardize environmental laws and consequences, standardize data amongst the various local and state enforcement agencies, provide training for enforcement and legal staff, and have awarded millions of dollars in grants for environmental projects.
  • The Unified Hazardous Materials Regulatory Program: The program, created in 1994, effectively consolidated and streamlined the efforts of more than 1,000 regulatory bodies to 121 coordinated state and local agencies. The program has consolidated inspections, standardized enforcement and created an electronic permitting system. This system also allows public access to information on how hazardous materials are handled throughout the state creating a much more transparent government.

California Air Resources Board

Updated April 2020

  • Cleaner Fuels: In 2011, CARB adopted the nation’s first Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) to reduce the carbon intensity of fuels by 10 percent, which is spurring energy diversity, lower costs and less dependence on foreign oil. By 2019, the LCFS had displaced nearly 15 billion gallons of liquid petroleum fuel and the average ethanol carbon intensity has decreased by about 25 percent.
  • Diesel Exhaust: For nearly two decades, CARB has steadily – and successfully – worked to clean up toxic diesel exhaust emissions and is on track to meet its goal of an 85 percent reduction from 2000 levels by the end of 2020. Regulations and financial incentives have driven down diesel emissions from trucks, buses, construction and port equipment, generators and marine engines.
  • Cleaner Cars: Since 2002, new cars sold in California have been required to meet a California standard for greenhouse gas vehicle emissions. This only happened after CARB fought the auto industry and the federal government for California’s right to implement clean car standards. Thirteen other states followed in California’s footsteps and implemented California’s standards, which helped push for the national standard adopted by the Obama administration. As of April 2020, these standards have resulted in more than 700,000 zero-emission vehicles on roads in California. CARB is again in a battle to keep California’s emissions standards, which are being challenged by the Trump administration.
  • Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions: In 2006, CARB began implementing the Global Warming Solutions Act (Assembly Bill 32) It was California’s first-in-the-nation law requiring a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and to achieve a 40 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2030. CARB subsequently adopted its cap-and-trade regulation in 2010 for a market-based approach to reducing emissions. California achieved the 2020 reduction targets four years early, in 2016, and has begun a much steeper reduction trajectory toward the 2030 goal, and toward full carbon neutrality by 2045.
  • Sustainable Freight: CARB has worked closely with California’s freight industry and local governments to minimize emissions and community health impacts from freight through a variety of regulations, incentive funds, agreements and coalition support focusing on accelerating the transition to zero-emissions operations.
  • Community Air Quality: CARB adopted the Community Air Protection Program, a groundbreaking partnership that includes community members as part of local, CARB-trained and equipped air monitoring networks. Each community decides which pollutants they want to monitor, then collects the data and reports it to CARB.

Department of Pesticide Regulation

  • Alternative to Fumigants: Much of California’s strawberry growers use fumigants – gaseous pesticides injected into the soil prior to planting – to control pests which threaten their crops. However DPR recognizes that some fumigants may pose environmental concerns. DPR convened the Non-fumigant Strawberry Production Work Group in 2012, and the following year, DPR and the California Strawberry Commission launched a three-year, $500,000 research partnership. Over the past fiscal year, more than $1 million has been allocated for future research grants to analyze alternatives to high-risk pesticides, especially fumigants. DPR held the first-ever “soil symposium” at U.C Davis in June 2014 to obtain a better understanding of soil ecology and reduced risk pesticide practices.
  •  In March 2014, DPR announced the sale of certain types of rat poisons known as Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides (SGARS) would no longer be sold to consumers. These poisons have been shown to be a threat to wildlife and the environment. Shortly after DPR’s action, a major manufacturer of these products agreed with USEPA to phase out nationwide production and sale by March 2015.
  •  Advancing Reduced‐Risk Pest Management: The Pest Management Alliance and an associated grants program, established in 1997, has provided more than $10 million in funding for projects that increase implementation and adoption of proven, effective integrated pest management (IPM) practices that reduce pesticide risks to human health and the environment.
  • Reducing Pesticide Emissions: California was the first state in the nation to reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from pesticides. In areas with severe air quality problems, DPR put regulations into place that limit fumigant emissions by reducing the amount applied and requiring low-emission application methods. In 2014 announced that some pesticide products that are high in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) will not be allowed to be used in many parts of California during May 1 and October 31, 2015, and May-October 2016.
  • Making Pesticide Information Accessible: DPR has increased public access to its unparalleled pesticide databases including those on pesticide use reporting, pesticide illnesses, endangered species protection, surface water monitoring, residue monitoring of fresh produce, Section 18 emergency exemptions from registration, restricted materials, pesticide product lists, and VOC emissions.

 Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery

  • Recycling Ethic Takes Hold: Through its aggressive implementation of landmark waste diversion and recycling laws, public awareness outreach, technical and financial support and more, CalRecycle played a leading role in the state’s transformation from a throwaway society to one that both values and puts into practice the tenets of “reduce, reuse and recycle.” Today, recycling is the most prevalent indicator of the public’s enthusiasm for more sustainable communities, and California’s success as a national leader in more sensible handling of discards is in stark contrast to where it stood just 25 years ago.
  • Achievements of The Integrated Waste Management Act: The Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989, enacted at a time when the state’s rate of diversion of discards from landfills was a meager 10 percent, established jurisdictional mandates to divert 25 percent and subsequently 50 percent of their waste in order to protect the environment, conserve resources, and cut our reliance on landfills. The law initially measured local results based on diversion, but now does so by disposal reduction, and the vast majority of California jurisdictions have achieved their disposal targets and implemented a broad range of waste reduction and recycling programs. The law has also given rise to a broad collection, recovery and remanufacturing infrastructure to accommodate higher recycling and create more California-based jobs. And, it has laid the foundation for the state’s ambitious goal to recycle, compost and source reduce 75 percent of its discards by 2020.
  • Beverage Container Recycling Program Success: By placing the California Redemption Value incentive on beverage containers, California’s “Bottle Bill” has become one of the nation’s most successful recycling and litter reduction programs. Historically high recycling rates of more than 80 percent combined for aluminum, plastic and glass beverage containers have been reached consistently since 2010. Since 1988, Californians have recycled more than 300 billion CRV bottles and cans.
  • One Billion Pound Milestone for E-Waste Recycling: In 2012, California achieved the distinction of having recycled one billion pounds of electronic waste since the e-waste program’s inception in 2005. Widespread availability of recycling opportunities through a robust recycling and collection infrastructure, along with public commitment to recycling, fueled this achievement.

Department of Toxic Substances Control

  • Safer Consumer Products: California’s Safer Consumer Products Regulations, the world’s first comprehensive program to seek safer alternatives in consumer products took effect October 1, 2013. The first set of products was named on March 13, 2014. These were: Children’s foam padded sleeping products containing flame retardants, spray polyurethane foams, and paint strippers containing methylene chloride. In October 2014, DTSC released its three year work plan for the program, identifying key product categories from which priority products will be selected.
  • DTSC’s Schools Program: For 13 years, DTSC has worked with school districts and parents to evaluate potential school properties and address contamination if it is found. DTSC’s Schools Program has helped ensure environmental safety on more than 2300 properties, resulting in almost 134,000 classrooms for more than 908,000 students to learn and play in safe environments.
  • Brownfields and Military Sites: On average, DTSC completes 125 brownfield cleanups each year. Returning contaminated properties to reproductive use helps spur the local economy and create jobs and provide parks or open space. DTSC is currently investigating, cleaning up or providing technical assistance at Concord Naval Weapons, Treasure Island, Brooklyn Basin Project, and Miraflores. For eight years, DTSC has overseen the more than $8 million Brownfield Revolving Loan and Grant Program. To-date, DTSC obligated more than $5 million in six loans, and more than $4.8 million in 18 sub-grants with the Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund grants. One such project is Greenway Trail in City of Whittier, after the cleanup of metal-contaminated soil, a 2.3-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail will be constructed. The Miraflores Project will see the conversion of a 14-acre commercial nursery into a residential neighborhood consisting of 330 homes – some affordable and other market-rate, in Richmond.
  • Enforcement: DTSC has taken a lead role in multiple statewide environmental enforcement cases against large chains including Lowe’s Home Centers, FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, Costco and Save Mart. The Lowe’s investigation resulted in an $18.1 million settlement for the unlawful handling and disposal of hazardous waste at more than 118 stores. Since 2010, environmental enforcement cases in which DTSC worked with state and local prosecutors have generated about $105 million as penalties, judgments or projects.
  • Metal Recycling Initiative: DTSC’s Metal Recycling Enforcement Initiative, which began in the fall of 2012, focuses inspection and enforcement activities on metal recycling facilities and the threats they pose to surrounding communities. DTSC’s Office of Criminal Investigations and Enforcement Emergency Response Division have jointly conducted numerous investigations that have resulted in criminal enforcement actions that resulted in charges being filed against businesses in Kings, Tulare and Los Angeles counties.
  • Enacted DTSC’s Schools Program: For 11 years, DTSC has worked with school districts and parents to evaluate potential school properties and address contamination if it is found. DTSC’s Schools Program has helped ensure environmental safety on more than 1,600 properties, resulting in almost 130,000 classrooms for more than 800,000 students to learn and play in safe environments.
  • Brownfields and Military Sites: On average, DTSC completes 125 brownfield cleanups each year. Returning contaminated properties to productive use helps spur the local economy and create jobs. DTSC is currently investigating, cleaning up or providing technical assistance at Fort Ord, Beale Air Force Base, Treasure Island and Camp Pendleton, resulting in more than 35,000 jobs.

Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment

  • Diesel Exhaust: OEHHA conducted a health effects assessment on diesel exhaust that air quality regulators use in setting statewide standards and permits for diesel equipment. The health risk assessment describes health effects that range from lung cancer to asthma attacks, enhanced allergy symptoms and light-headedness. OEHHA’s assessment found that children and the elderly are more sensitive to the combination of toxic gases and pollution particles that make up diesel exhaust.
  • Environmental Tobacco Smoke: OEHHA’s comprehensive health effects assessment of Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) found that children shoulder an especially high share of the health effects associated with smoke including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), increased asthma attacks, infections, low birth weight and impaired lung growth. State regulators are using OEHHA’s study to control the health effects of secondhand smoke.
  • Proposition 65: OEHHA implements the voter-approved Proposition 65 which informs Californians about exposures to substances known to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm, and protects the State’s drinking water sources from these substances. Proposition 65 has resulted in the removal of lead from toys, candy, vitamins, computer components, cosmetics, jewelry, dishes and clothing;  removal of mercury from certain medications; removal of toluene from paints and coatings; and reduction of acrylamide, a known carcinogen, from common foods.
  • Public Health Goals (PHG): OEHHA develops PHGs for contaminants in drinking water that provide scientific guidance when developing enforceable cleanup standards. OEHHA recently proposed PHGs for perchlorate and hexavalent chromium, two contaminants detected in many California drinking water systems. The PHGs consider all potential health effects of these contaminants, including special consideration for effects on children and those with compromised immune systems. The hexavalent chromium public health goal will be the first in the nation for this contaminant and an important step toward development of the nation’s first standard for the chemical.
  • Children’s Health: OEHHA pioneered the compilation of research showing that cancer-causing chemicals affect children in different ways than they affect adults. OEHHA also integrates consideration of children’s health into its air and water health risk assessments that are used by other agencies.  OEHHA created “child-specific reference doses,” which are special guidance documents used to determine whether a contaminant at a school site might put kids at risk of cancer or other types of harm.

State Water Resources Control Board

  • Division of Drinking Water Program: The successful transfer of the state’s Division of Drinking Water program from the California Department of Public Health to the State Water Resources Control Board in 2014 represent the continuum of drinking water management, from source to tap. Work continues in the areas of identifying communities that are most in need of reliable drinking water, and in setting up the most efficient financial review and approval process to disperse needed funds to get clean drinking water infrastructure in place.
  • Drought: 2014 was a daunting year as the State Water Board carefully navigated a third year of drought with a series of important actions intended to balance water needs. During this historic drought, the State Water Board swiftly took three distinct actions. Those actions included: approved a series of Temporary Urgency Change Petitions submitted by both the State and Federal Water Projects to ensure that enough water can be directed to communities served by the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project; began issuing curtailment notices for junior water right holders along the Sacramento, San Joaquin, Scott, Eel and Russian rivers when it became clear there would not be enough water available to serve all water right claims in those watersheds, and, adopted historic emergency water conservation regulations that required water agencies, their customers and state residents to mandatorily increase water conservation in urban settings or face possible fines or other enforcement action.
  • Mono Lake Restoration: In 1994, State Water Board issued Decision 1631, which ended decades of conflict between conservationists and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s diversion of water from four streams that are tributary to Mono Lake. As a result, Mono Lake levels have risen, protecting wildlife and water quality, the fishery in the four streams have improved, and restoration efforts continue.
  • Once-through Cooling Policy Enacted: In May 2010, the State Water Board adopted its once-through cooling policy for  power plants to reduce ocean water intake by 93 percent to protect marine life, recreational and commercial fishing.
  • Cleaning Up Impaired Water Bodies: During the last decade, the State Water Board has approved total maximum daily load limits to reduce pollutants that continue to impair water quality at Lake Tahoe, along the Klamath River, in the Los Angeles River basin and more. As a result, there has been a significant reduction of pollutants that can hinder aquatic and human benefit of these once pristine locations.
  •  Underground Storage Tank Program: For more than 20 years, the State Water Board has administered a program that assists businesses and property owners in cleaning up contamination from leaking underground storage tanks (UST) that contained petroleum products. During this time, more than $2.9 billion has been distributed from a designated UST tank cleanup fund to clean-up nearly 6,500 contaminated locations.
  • Funding Public Pollution Prevention and Water Quality Projects: The State Water Board has a two-decade long history of providing the necessary financing, resources and grants for the construction of publicly-owned facilities such as waste water treatment plants, sewage systems, storm water treatment and collection basins through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). Some $250 million is distributed, on average, every year to eligible projects to improve public health and/or water quality.