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California CUPA Overview: Enforcing the CalEPA Unified Program

EH&S Compliance, Health & Safety Training

Written by: Virginia McCormick, NES, Inc.

California CUPAs protect the public and the environment by enforcing the six environmental programs that comprise the Unified Program.


History of California CUPAs

The California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) was established in 1991 to oversee environmental protection programs statewide. The agency’s general mission is, “to restore, protect and enhance the environment, to ensure public health, environmental quality and economic vitality.” In order to achieve this, CalEPA oversees the implementation of what is known as the Unified Program through Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs).

The Unified Program ensures consistency regarding hazardous waste and hazardous materials handling in California by consolidating six environmental programs. Local agencies, commonly environmental health departments or other public health-related organizations, are certified by CalEPA as CUPAs to manage and enforce the Unified Program within their jurisdictions.

There are currently 81 CUPAs in the State, including Fresno County Department of Public Health, Merced County Department of Public Health, San Mateo County Environmental Health Department, Yolo County Environmental Health Department, and San Joaquin County Environmental Health Department.

In addition to CUPAs, there are 24 Participating Agencies (PAs) in California. PAs, typically small- to medium-sized fire departments, work in conjunction with the regional CUPA(s). PAs enforce one or more of the programs included in the Unified Program in place of a CUPA. For example, the Pasadena Fire Department operates as a PA within the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Fire Department CUPA.

Through the PAs and CUPAs, California can maintain a more unified and efficient process for protecting public health and safety and the environment.

The California CUPA Forum was established to continually improve the Unified Program. The California CUPA Forum provides videos, documents, and frameworks to support CUPAs. Additionally, the forum holds a conference each year that provides training in subjects related to enhancing Unified Program implementation.

 Did you know that NES has been a long-time contributor to and sponsor of the California CUPA Conference? For more information, see the January 2019 NES article, NES Presenting at 2019 Cal CUPA Conference.


Hazardous materials can pose serious dangers to public health and safety if not properly regulated.


The Six Programs of California CUPAs

California CUPAs are an integral part of the CalEPA Unified Program. CUPAs consolidate, coordinate, and make consistent the enforcement activities of six environmental and emergency response programs in California. State agency partners that are associated with the enactment of the Unified Program are responsible for setting program standards, working with CalEPA to ensure program consistency, and providing technical assistance to CUPAs.

Hazardous Materials Business Plans Program

See the full NES blog on this topic here.

The Hazardous Materials Business Plans (HMBPs) program was first established in 1986 by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES). The program was instituted primarily as a response to the 1984 Bhopal, India chemical disaster, in which a toxic gas was released, resulting in approximately 15,000 deaths. The purpose of the program is to, “prevent or minimize the damage to public health and safety and the environment from a release or threatened release of hazardous materials.” A key purpose of HMBPs is to provide a reference source of businesses’ chemical inventories for use by emergency responders in the case of an emergency.

Hazardous Waste Generators Program

See the full NES blog on this topic here.

California CUPAs are charged with overseeing the Hazardous Waste Generators program, which ensures that hazardous wastes generated by businesses are properly handled, recycled, treated, stored, and disposed. There are specific procedures for determining how hazardous waste is classified and handled. The program, which originates from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), also covers Emergency Response Plans, spill and release reporting, and hazardous waste minimization.

California Accidental Release Prevention Program

See the full NES blog on this topic here.

According to the California CUPA Forum, the goal of the California Accidental Release Prevention (CalARP) program is to, “reduce the likelihood and severity of consequences of extremely hazardous materials releases.” Under the program, facilities that handle specific chemicals are required to take steps to prevent and prepare for accidental releases of substances that can cause serious harm to the public and the environment. The program, which is overseen by CalOES, requires the development of Risk Management Plans. California CUPAs are responsible for reviewing these plans before implementation.


California CUPAs help minimize damage from accidental releases of hazardous materials, such as used oil spills.


Aboveground Storage Tanks

See the full NES blog on this topic here.

Adopted in 1989, the Aboveground Petroleum Storage Act (APSA) program regulates facilities with large (greater than 1,320 gallons) aggregate petroleum tank storage, aboveground fuel tank stations, and vehicle repair shops. APSA does not regulate non-petroleum products, and all regulated facilities must meet federal EPA Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule requirements. SPCC Plans are intended to prevent, prepare for, and execute responses to petroleum releases from aboveground storage tanks.

Underground Storage Tanks

See the full NES blog on this topic here.

While the APSA program specifically regulates petroleum storage, the Underground Storage Tank (UST) program covers tanks located partially or completely beneath the surface of the ground that store any type of hazardous chemical. According to federal EPA, most USTs were made of bare steel until the mid-1980s and were likely to corrode and leak over time. The UST program, which is overseen by the California State Water Resources Control Board, protects against hazardous substance releases by regulating leak prevention, cleanup, enforcement, and tank test licensing procedures.

California Fire Code

See the full NES blog on this topic here.

There are two sections of the California Fire Code (CFC) that are included in CalEPA’s Unified Program. These CFC sections deal with Hazardous Materials Management Plans and Hazardous Materials Inventory Statements (equivalent of HMBPs). According to the overseeing agency, CAL FIRE, these sections of the CFC are designed to, “enhance coordination and communication among the CUPA, participating agencies, fire agencies, and business stakeholders.” This is achieved by strengthening communication, coordination, consistency, and consolidation through the California CUPAs.


The California State Water Resources Control Board provides oversight for California CUPAs regarding underground storage tanks.


NES & California CUPAs

In business since 1987, NES maintains a solid reputation for providing expert environmental health & safety training on behalf of various California CUPAs. Following are some of the programs NES commonly provides:

  • SPCC Plans for APSA Sites: This course covers APSA statutes, SPCC Plans, regulatory requirements, and releases for facilities with aboveground storage tanks.
  • Universal Waste Management: This training program covers hazards associated with universal waste, responding to releases of universal waste, and proper packaging, labeling, accumulation, and shipping requirements for universal waste.
  • Hazardous Waste Management for the Auto Industry: This program provides an outline of waste management requirements for hazardous waste commonly generated in the auto industry (repair and paint shops) and includes pollution prevention methods.
  • UST Owner/Operator: Training covers the responsibilities of owners and operators of facilities with underground storage tanks.
  • Hazardous Materials Business Plans / CERS: This course provides a breakdown of HMBP requirements, completion and submittal of the HMBP via CERS, Contingency Plan requirements, and emergency response procedures.
  • Basic Hazardous Waste Management: Training covers hazardous waste recordkeeping and management requirements, hazardous waste identification and classification, container and tank management requirements, and shipping requirements.
  • Advanced Hazardous Waste Management: This training program covers generator status determination, hazardous waste recordkeeping and management requirements, hazardous waste identification and classification, hazardous waste exemptions and recycling exceptions, container and tank management, facility standards, land disposal restrictions, and tiered permitting.
  • DOT & Hazardous Waste Manifest: Training topics for this course include identification of DOT-regulated hazardous materials and waste, proper packaging, marking, and labeling, and completion and submittal of the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest form.

We are contracted with select CUPAs throughout California to deliver the above training programs to regulated businesses within those CUPAs’ jurisdictions. Additionally, state and local inspectors routinely attend our open enrollment OSHA and hazardous waste management training programs at our Folsom, CA and San Leandro, CA training centers.

By helping regulated businesses protect their employees, assets, and the environment, NES demonstrates a dedication to providing high-quality environmental health & safety training and consulting services. For more information, contact NES at 916-353-2360 / 1-800-NES-ADVISE (1-800-637-2384) or



California Environmental Protection Agency: The History of the California Environmental Protection Agency

Unified Program

The Certified Unified Program Agencies of Los Angeles County

California CUPA Forum: Business Plans

Hazardous Waste

California Accidental Release Prevention

Aboveground Storage Tanks

Underground Storage Tanks

California Fire

California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services: HazMat Business Plan

California Accidental Release Prevention

The Atlantic: Bhopal: The World’s Worst Industrial Disaster, 30 Years Later

California Department of Toxic Substances Control: Managing Hazardous Waste

CAL FIRE: Aboveground Petroleum Storage Act

Certified Unified Program Agency

United States Environmental Protection Agency: Oil Spills Prevention and Preparedness Regulations

Learn About Underground Storage Tanks (USTs)

California State Water Resources Control Board: Division of Water Quality – Underground Storage Tank Program