Phase I Environmental Site Assessments in California

There are multiple regulatory differences that make California unique when performing a Phase I Environmental Assessment. Having an environmental consultant who understands the details and requirements of the water, air, environmental, city, and county programs in the Golden State can ensure the environmental due diligence process for a commercial real estate property goes smoothly. Partner Engineering and Science, Inc. has extensive experience in California, with offices in San Francisco, Irvine, Corona, San Diego, including headquarters in Torrance, and wide coverage throughout the state. A few of the major statewide differences in California that can impact a Phase I ESA in the state are the following:

-The California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the California Human Health Screening Levels (CHHSLs) in 2005. The CHHSLs provide the user with a chemical specific look up table for what levels of soil gas or indoor air concentrations represent a threat to human health. CHHSLs are not intended to be regulatory numbers, but are often treated as such. CHHSLs are also famously conservative. You need an environmental consultant doing your Phase I ESA that knows how to interpret soil gas and indoor air data in relation to CHHSLs and this requires a lot of California experience.

-In most states the regulations are statewide rules with maybe some variations for cities and counties. In California, the State Water Board grants a lot of power and autonomy to the Regional Water Quality Control Boards. The regional water boards are organized generally by watershed and may split counties. Water boards may have very different regulations. For example, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board developed Environmental Screening Levels (ESLs) for soil and groundwater contamination, whereas the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board uses different screening levels including Soil Screening Levels, CHHSLs for soil-gas , and Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for groundwater.

Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs) have a lot of power in California. CUPAs are city or county agencies that have been more or less deputized to handle certain regulatory functions. An example of a CUPA is the City of Los Angeles Fire Department, which oversees releases from underground storage tanks (USTs), termed leaking USTs or LUSTs. To do proper regulatory due diligence during a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment your environmental professional must understand the California CUPAs.

-The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is California’s equivalent of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment sometimes has to deal with CEQA/NEPA issues like wetlands, endangered species, and/or historical resources as additional scope items.

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