Environmental Permitting Guide

This Environmental Permitting Guide is meant to serve as a quick reference tool to assist businesses in finding information on regulated business activities that impact the environment and serves as a comprehensive source of contact information for environmental regulators throughout the state.

Air Quality Imacts

Many businesses operating in California must comply with environmental requirements that protect public health and air quality. Examples of businesses affected by air pollution regulations include those involved with:

  • Dry Cleaning
  • Commercial boilers, generators, heaters and incinerators
  • Solvent Cleaners
  • Paints or inks
  • Toxic Chemicals
  • Gasoline Sales and distribution
  • Agriculture
  • Automotive refinishing

For more information, consult the California Air Resources Board for businesses.

You can refer to our California Permitting Authorities Mapping Tool to identify what Air District boundary your business is located in. You can also visit the California Local Air District Directory.

Handling, Storing, or Transporting Hazardous Materials

Hazardous waste is a waste with properties that make it potentially dangerous or harmful to human health or the environment. The universe of hazardous wastes is large and diverse. Hazardous wastes can be liquids, solids, or contained gases. They can be the by-products of manufacturing processes, discarded used materials, or discarded unused commercial products, such as cleaning fluids (solvents) or pesticides. In regulatory terms, a hazardous waste is a waste that appears on one of the four Resource Conservation and Recovery Act hazardous wastes lists (the F-list, K-list, P-list, or U-list) or that exhibits one of the four characteristics of a hazardous waste – ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity. However, materials can be hazardous wastes even if they are not specifically listed or don’t exhibit any characteristic of a hazardous waste.

For more information on hazardous waste, consult the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The Local Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs) in California are charged with the responsibility of conducting compliance inspections and permitting for facilities that handle hazardous material, generate or treat a hazardous waste and/or operate an underground storage tank to minimize the potential risk to human health and the environment and establish an atmosphere to promote fair business practices. Contact your local CUPA program to determine what specific requirements are needed to adhere to. For more information consult the CUPA Program.

You can refer to our California Permitting Authorities Mapping Tool to identify what CUPA boundary your business is located in. You can also visit the CUPA Directory.

Water Quality Impacts

State and Regional Level

Many businesses operating in California must comply with state and federal environmental requirements that protect water quality. Projects that involve discharges to waters of the State in more than one region are the jurisdiction of the State Water Board. The State Water Resources Control Board has jurisdiction throughout California. There are nine regional water quality control boards that exercise rulemaking and regulatory activities by basin. The regional water boards establish requirements for sources of waste discharge, including nonpoint sources and other sources exempted that have been exempted from federal permitting requirements. Projects that involve discharges to waters of the State in more than one region are the jurisdiction of the State Water Board. For more information consult the State Water Resources Control Board.

Federal Level

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers require permits for any work, including construction and dredging, in the Nation’s navigable waters.
Different Permit Types:

  • Section 404 Permit: This permit is required when work involves a discharge of dredged or fill material into any “waters of the United States.”
  • Section 10 Permit: This permit is required when working or erecting structures in or affecting “navigable waters.” This includes all waters affected by tidal influence or otherwise determined to be navigable.

For more information consult the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

You can refer to our California Permitting Authorities Mapping Tool to identify what Regional Water Quality Control Board boundary and Corps boundary your business is located in. You can also visit the Regional Water Quality Control Board Map.

You can also contact one of the following district offices for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

  • San Francisco District – (415) 503-6771
  • Sacramento District – (916) 557-5250
  • Los Angeles District – (213) 452-3425
Treating, Handling, Disposing, or Storing Solid Waste

In general, solid waste refers to garbage, refuse, sludge, and other discarded solid materials resulting from residential activities, and industrial and commercial operations. This term generally includes used oil. This term generally does not include solids or dissolved material in domestic sewage or other significant pollutants in water such as silt, dissolved or suspended solids in industrial wastewater effluents, dissolved materials in irrigation return flows or other common water pollutants. However, if any of these materials are separated from the water that carries them, then they generally are considered solid waste. For regulatory purposes, hazardous waste is a subset of solid waste.

California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) Local Enforcement Agencies are designated by the governing body of a county or city and upon certification by CalRecycle, are empowered to implement delegated programs and locally designated activities. They have the primary responsibility for ensuring the correct operation and closure of solid waste facilities in the state. They also have responsibilities for guaranteeing the proper storage and transportation of solid wastes.

For more information, consult the CalRecycle for Full Solid Waste Facilities Permits.

You can refer to our California Permitting Authorities Mapping Tool to identify what Local Enforcement boundary your business is located in. You can also visit the LEA Directory.

Pesticide Sales and Use

The Department of Pesticide Regulation’s (DPR) mission is to protect human health and the environment by regulating pesticide sales and use by fostering reduced-risk pest management. A portion of DPR’s budget supports local pesticide enforcement by the County Agricultural Commissioner’s.

The Pesticide and Food Toxicology Section of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) carries out risk assessment and hazard evaluation activities related to pesticides and other chemical contaminants in food and consumer products. These include evaluating chemical contamination of raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, and environmental media in cases of accidental release. Staff within the program performs activities required by legislation to review risk characterizations prepared by DPR and to evaluate pesticide toxicity data in support of pesticide use and regulation in California.

For more information, visit:

You can refer to our California Permitting Authorities Mapping Tool to identify the County Agriculture/Weights & Measures Department boundary your business is located in. You can also visit the CDFA Ag Commissioners directory.

Fish, Wildlife, and Plant Habitat Impacts

State and Regional Level

California’s fish and wildlife depend upon the quality and quantity of habitat including lands, waters, and other environmental factors necessary for survival.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Environmental Review and Permitting Programs help fulfill CDFW’s mission to manage California’s diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public.

The California Endangered Species Act (CESA) Program authorizes CDFW to permit project proponents to “take” (hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill) state-listed threatened, endangered or candidate species if certain conditions are met. The CESA Program administers the incidental “take” provisions of CESA, including special agreements such as Safe Harbor Agreements and Voluntary Local Programs, to ensure regulatory compliance and statewide consistency.

The CDFW also requires a Stream Alteration Agreement (SAA) for projects that will divert or obstruct the natural flow of water, obstruct or use any material from a streambed. Any work undertaken in or near a river, stream, or lake that flows at least intermittently through a bed or channel usually requires an SAA. If you have any uncertainty about the need for an SAA you should contact the Department’s Regional Office in your area.

Federal Level

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the principal Federal agency for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. USFWS enforces the federal Endangered Species Act, insures compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and reviews and comments on all water resource projects. Field offices are responsible for assisting an applicant in preparing a Habitat Conservation Plan, ensuring that the HCP and associated documents are complete and coordinating with the appropriate Regional Office throughout HCP development, approval and implementation.

Agencies consult with the USFWS, the National Marine Fisheries Service and State wildlife agencies (i.e. the CDFW) for activities that affect, control, or modify waters of any stream or bodies of water. The USFWS may recommend denial of a permit application, the incorporation of additional permit conditions to minimize adverse effects, or mitigation actions. In addition, the Fish and Wildlife Service functions in an advisory capacity to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The USFWS administers licenses and permits at regional offices and certain port locations to authorize and monitor activities consistent with the conservation, protection and enhancement of wildlife, plants and their habitats. The regions also consider the risks and benefits of proposed activities to species and use the best available science and expertise to make decision.
You can refer to our California Permitting Authorities Mapping Tool to identify the USFWS regional boundary your business is located in. You can also visit the USFWS Pacific Southwest Region.

Coastal Development

Any person or public agency proposing development within the coastal zone must obtain a Coastal Development Permit from either the Coastal Commission or the city or county having authority to issue coastal development permits.

The coastal zone extends from the State’s three-mile seaward limit to an average of approximately 1,000 yards inland from the mean high tide of the sea. In coastal estuaries, watersheds, wildlife habitats, and recreational areas, the coastal zone may extend as much as five miles inland. In developed urban areas, the coastal zone may extend inland less than 1,000 yards. As defined by the Coastal Act, “development” includes land, in or under water, the placement or erection of any solid material or structure; discharge or disposal of any dredge material or a gaseous, liquid, solid, or thermal waste; grading, removing, dredging, mining or extraction of any material; change in the density or intensity of use of land (including land diversions); construction, reconstruction, demolition, or alternation of the size of any structure; and the removal or harvesting of major vegetation other than for agricultural operations, kelp harvesting, and timber operations which are in accordance with a Timber Harvest Plan issued by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

You can refer to our California Permitting Authorities Mapping Tool to identify if your business is located within the coastal zone.

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The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) was created by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. to serve as the State of California's leader for job growth and economic development efforts. GO-Biz partnered with the State's Information Technology Leadership Academy 22 to create the California Business Portal.