Variance Fundamentals

This page last reviewed June 1, 2015

There are four primary participants in the variance process which are listed below in the general order of involvement.

The Petitioner

The Petitioner is in current or imminent violation due to conditions beyond his or her reasonable control and must request a variance to continue operating while making repairs or modifications necessary to come into compliance with the applicable air pollution control district rule or regulation (or with Health & Safety Code HSC §41701.)

The District Staff

The District staff usually performs some of the administrative functions of processing a variance, such as providing the application for variance form (petition application). The District staff may also include the Clerk of the hearing board, who will schedule the matter for hearing. A separate section of District staff also appear as a party to the variance proceeding. District staff may oppose or support the variance, for reasons that must be stated on the record, or take a neutral position on the variance. District staff typically prepares a staff report, which is provided to board members prior to the hearing and contains background, emissions data, enforcement history, and other information regarding the facility or individual requesting the variance. District staff also follows up to ensure that the increments of progress, emission limits and final compliance dates contained within the variance order are met. A model district program would meet all of ARB's Variance Program Criteria .

The Hearing Board

The Hearing Board consists of five members, one of whom is selected as Chair (hearing boards have "alternate" members who hear cases when the regular members are not available). The HSC requires that one member be a medical professional, one an engineer, one a lawyer, and two public members. There is one hearing board for each local air pollution control district (except in the San Joaquin Valley where there are three: the Northern Zone, Central Zone, and Southern Zone) for a total of 37 hearing boards in California. Their role is to weigh the facts and circumstances and decide whether to grant or deny a variance, based on whether testimony and evidence presented on record, at the hearing, enables that each of the findings can be made. The hearing board is also charged with hearing various permit appeals, disputes regarding the issuance of emission reduction credits, and abatement orders.

ARB's Role

The Air Resources Board's responsibility is to ensure that all variance orders granted in the State of California are issued in accordance with state law (HSC §42362). The hearing boards are required to send ARB a copy of their orders within 30 days of being granted (HSC §42360). ARB evaluates these orders to ensure compliance with H&SC requirements, including the requirement that compliance is to be achieved as expeditiously as possible. ARB also attends hearings, evaluates local air district programs and conducts variance training to inform hearing board members, district staff, variance applicants and the public on the requirements that must be met before a variance may be granted.

Hearing Board Workshops

ARB recommends that all hearing board members and variance district staff attend our Hearing Board workshops. These workshops also provide useful information for anyone involved in the variance process.

Contact Us

For information regarding California's Variance Oversight Program or Hearing Board Workshops, please contact Vickie McGrath at (916) 229-0331 or Briana Quintana at (916) 229-0355.