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The Permitting Process

To access the new interactive permit processing guide flowchart, please click here.


We have developed this page to help you better understand the process of obtaining an Air Pollution Permit in the San Joaquin Valley Air Basin.  Basic information regarding a number air pollution rules and standards are included here, but it is not intended to serve as a substitute for the Districtís Rule that contains air pollution regulations.  Go to our Rules and Regulations page to download free copies of individual District rules. 

In addition, we encourage potential applicants to contact one of our regional business assistance offices.  Our small business assistance engineers can help you every step of the way towards obtaining your Air Pollution Permit.

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Who needs an air pollution permit?

Facilities with equipment that may emit air pollution or is used for controlling air pollution are subject to permit requirements.  The District grants two types of permits:

  • Authority to Construct
  • Permit to Operate

An Authority to Construct must be obtained before building or installing a new emissions unit or modifying an existing emissions unit that requires a permit.

A Permit to Operate is issued after all construction is completed and the emission unit is ready for operation.

Certain equipment is exempt from permit requirements.  A permit is not usually required for repair and maintenance or identical replacement.  District Rule 2020 (Exemptions) lists the types and sizes of devices that are exempt from permitting requirements.

The District has developed a checklist which can provide further guidance in determining the District permitting and notification requirements for your project. Please click here for the checklist.

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Examples of Equipment Needing Permits

  • Internal combustion engines greater than 50 hp
  • Boilers and steam generators
  • Mixing, blending or processing of any organic solvents, adhesives, or coatings
  • Operations creating dust or smoke or involving incineration of any material
  • Metal reclamation or refining of any liquids or solids
  • Storage or use of solvents or motor fuels (except diesel)
  • Storage or use of acids
  • Operations involving chemical reactions
  • Equipment handling asbestos, beryllium, hexavalent chromium, mercury, vinyl chloride, fluorides, sulfuric acid mist, and hydrogen sulfide or other sulfur compounds
  • Use of solvents for cleanup

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Examples of Facilities Needing Permits

Asphalt batch plants

Concrete batch plants Cotton gins

Auto body shops

Metal parts coating/plating  Gasoline stations

Wood products coating

Plastic parts coating/plating  Feed and grain mills

Solid waste disposal

 Sand and Gravel operations Paint spray booths

Organic liquid storage

Oil/gas drilling  Dry cleaners

Solvent cleaners (degreasers)

Oil/gas production  Canning operations

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Rules that Apply to the Permitting Process

Rules applying to various operations are adopted by the District as part of a plan to meet state and federal air quality standards and are listed in the District Rule. 

An automotive body repair shop, for instance, may be subject to the requirements of District Rule 4612 (Motor Vehicle and Mobile Equipment Refinishing Operations).  Some prohibitory rules, such as 4201 (Particulate Matter Concentration), apply to all sources that emit a specific air contaminant.  The prohibitory rules are a part of Regulation IV in the District Rule.

Rules in Regulation VII of the Rule apply to specific sources of toxic air contaminants.  District Rule 7012 (Hexavalent Chromium – Cooling Towers), for example applies to cooling towers in which circulating water is exposed to the atmosphere.

Rules that directly govern the permitting process are contained in Regulation II of the District Rule.  For instance, Rules 2010 (Permits Required) and 2020 (Exemptions) describe the equipment or operations that must obtain permits.  Rule 2201 (New and Modified Source Review) is one of the most important rules to project proponents, as its requirements apply to every facility installing or modifying equipment that requires permits.  See “What is New Source Review?”, below, for an overview of this rule.

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The Application Process

Any person building, altering or replacing any operation or equipment which may emit air contaminants has to first submit an application and obtain an Authority to Construct (ATC) from the Air District. The ATC must be obtained before the equipment is modified or brought on site, and can only be obtained once the District has determined that the proposal is complying with all air quality regulations.

Permit applications must be submitted to obtain the necessary permits and must contain all information necessary for the District to determine compliance with the requirements of all applicable District rules.

While the Districtís role is to regulate the operation of equipment and processes that emit air contaminants, the District has no authority over land use decisions. In fact, local land use agencies (i.e. city and county local governments) have authority over land use planning, and as such, authorize the location and construction of various facilities. It is only after those land-use and siting decisions are made that the District can make an official determination about whether the facility complies with air pollution regulations.

Obtaining Applications
A permit application and instructions may be obtained by mail or in person from any of the three District offices, or by downloading them from our Application Forms page. Be sure to indicate the type of equipment that you wish to permit when requesting the application.

Scheduling a Pre-application Meeting
Applicants are encouraged to meet with District staff before submitting applications.

Pre-application meetings:
  • Allow applicants to fully explain proposed projects and discuss timeframes in detail,
  • Can help applicants to submit complete applications,
  • Encourage discussion of compliance options, and
  • Provide an opportunity for District staff to explain permit requirements (i.e., new BACT determinations, health risk issues, public noticing, etc.).

A pre-application meeting may be scheduled by contacting the Permit Service Division at the nearest District office, or by contacting one of the Districtís regional Small Business Assistance Offices. Additional information about the District Small Business Assistance program can be obtain by clicking on the following link: http://www.valleyair.org/busind/busasst/sba.htm

Submitting Applications
Applications may be submitted to any of the three regional District offices by mail or in person. All information requested in the application instructions should be included.

A nonrefundable application-filing fee for each permit unit is required pursuant to Rule 3010 (Permit Fee). The District will assess reasonable additional fees based upon expenses and the average weighted labor rate if the original application fee does not cover the time and effort required to evaluate the project. You will be notified in writing of the assessment of any additional fees in conjunction with notification that the application is deemed complete. Payment can be made by checks or money orders payable to the SJVAPCD or made online by clicking on the following link: http://www.valleyair.org/GovPay/govpay_idx.htm.

Evaluating Applications
For some projects, such as installation of motor vehicle refueling equipment, complete applications may be processed within one hour. Many applications, however, are more complex and may take a number of months for the District to process. District involvement in a projectís early planning stages is very advantageous in most situations.

Preliminary Review
Once the District receives an application that requires a District engineering evaluation, it is entered into our Permit Administration System database and assigned to permit staff member. Within 30 days of receiving the project application, the assigned permit staff member will perform a preliminary review to determine if all the information needed to process the application is available.

When the Preliminary Review is done, the applicant is notified of the Districtís completeness determination. In case it is determined that information or application filing fees are missing, the application is deemed incomplete and a letter sent to the applicant identifying the missing information. State law allows an additional 30 days to review new information submitted. Once the District has all the information needed, the application is deemed complete and moves to the next step: the Final Review

Final Review
Complete applications are assigned for final review on a first-come, first-served basis (based on the date the application was deemed complete). The assigned permit staff member will then proceed with the project engineering evaluation of the proposed project.

The evaluation review process involves calculating emissions, determining compliance with District Rule 2201, New Source Review (NSR) and all applicable prohibitory District Rules, performing a Risk Management Review, and ensuring that the proposed project complies with CEQA requirements.

NSR includes Best Available Control Technology (BACT), including performing a new BACT determination if needed, offset requirements, an Ambient Air Quality Analysis for certain projects, and public noticing when emissions exceed certain thresholds. Prohibitory Rules may be applicable to all projects (such as visible emissions limits) or specific to certain types of operations (such as boilers, engines, oilfield operations, automotive painting and drycleaners).

When project related emissions exceed certain thresholds as identified in District Rule 2201, NSR, section 5.4, a 30-day public notice is required before the District makes a final decision over the project.

For the Air District to issue ATC(s), the proposed equipment or operation must meet all the following criteria:

  • Complying with all air quality rule requirements,
  • Not exceeding health risk thresholds, or creating a significant risk, and
  • Satisfying CEQA requirements.

In case the proposed equipment or operation does not comply with any of the above listed criteria, the ATC application will be denied.

Once the assigned permit staff member has completed his/her review, a lead/supervisory engineer reviews the project to ensure it is correct and that the Districtís high quality standards are upheld. The District Compliance Division then reviews the proposed permit conditions and the District makes a preliminary decision to approve or deny the project. If the decision is to approve the project, any required public noticing is performed (30 days when NSR public notice threshold is exceeded or when hazardous emissions increases occur within 1,000 feet of a K-12 school, 45 days if the facility has a Title V permit) and comments are addressed, then the Authority to Construct is issued.

If the decision is to deny, the District will contact the applicant to discuss what changes are needed to comply with the applicable Rules.

Most projects will be finalized within 30 days of being assigned for final review. Certain projects (such as emergency IC engines and auto body shops) will be issued within 30 days of being deemed complete, not including noticing time if required.

Projects can also be expedited, if there is an economic or environmental justification.

State law requires the District to act on an application (approve or deny) within 180 days of when the application was deemed complete, or when CEQA has been satisfied, whichever is later. Due to the potential length of time it may take to issue an Authority to Construct, it is recommended to submit permit applications as early as possible.

Permit Processing Guide Flowchart

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What happens after the application is evaluated?

The Authority to Construct is Issued (see Quick Start Guide)

If the project meets all applicable requirements, the applicant will be mailed an Authority to Construct.  An applicant that has been granted an Authority to Construct is required to notify the Compliance Division at the District office in his or her region when the installation or modification is complete.

The Compliance Division will have an inspector visit the site.  The inspector will determine whether the completed project was built in accordance with the design specified in the application and/or if the completed project complies with District rules and conditions contained within the Authority to Construct.  The inspector will then give a recommendation on the Permit to Operate.

Projects approved by Permit Services Division and the Compliance Division will be billed for an annual permit fee.  The permit fee schedules are contained in District Rule 3020 in Regulation III of the District Rule.

The Permit to Operate is Issued

After receiving your permits in the mail, the person receiving them should review them carefully.  Permit holders are responsible for complying with all terms and conditions of the permits.  Comments on the permit should be submitted to the Permit Services Division within 10 days of receiving the permit.

The Permit to Operate, renewable every five years, must be posted at the operation whenever possible.  If the permit cannot be posted on the equipment, the Permit to Operate must be posted within 25 feet of the equipment or be kept readily available onsite at all times.

The frequency of routine inspections by the District’s Compliance Division will vary depending on the size and category of the facility.

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What is New Source Review (NSR)?

New sources of air pollution, and modifications of existing sources must comply with District Rule 2201 (New and Modified Source Review), also known as New Source Review or NSR.  This rule is a component of Regulation II of our District Rule.  The NSR rule provides the mechanism for the District to issue permits to new and expanding businesses without interfering with efforts to meet the state and federal health-based air quality standards.  NSR contains a couple of main requirements – BACT and Offsets.

Best Available Control Technology

The best available air pollution control technology (BACT) is required for new and modifying units that result in certain calculated emissions increases.  BACT is, at a minimum, the most stringent control technique or limitation that has been achieved in practice for the same class of source.  However, if there is a more effective control that is both technologically feasible and cost effective, or that is contained in an approved implementation plan, the more effective control technique must be used.

Emissions Offsets

Emissions Offsets are emissions reductions that are provided to “offset” emissions increases from new or modifying sources of air pollution.  District Rule 2201 requires offsets for increases in allowed emissions above certain trigger levels.

Offsets, when required, may be provided by onsite or offsite emissions reductions and must be real, surplus, quantifiable, enforceable, and permanent.  Offsets may be obtained by purchasing emissions reduction credits from another party.  Procedures for banking and use of emission reduction credits are described in Rule 2301 (Emission Reduction Credit Banking) in Regulation II of the District Rule.  A list of names and addresses of owners of emission reduction credit certificates is available from any of the regional District offices for a nominal fee, or may be downloaded free from our ERC Certificate Holders page.

Other Requirements

For larger projects, or for those with a potentially significant health impact, New Source Review also requires public noticing of preliminary decisions and/or analysis of alternate sites or processes.

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Risk Management Review / Ambient Air Quality Analysis Process

During the course of the project evaluation process, the District must perform an analysis to evaluate the potential impact of the proposed project on the health of the surrounding public. The District does not issue permits for projects that will create a significant health risk.

This analysis evaluates three areas of exposure:

  • The cancer risk, defined as the long term exposure to the emissions from a project over a lifetime (70 years),
  • The Acute Hazard Index, defined as the short term exposure to the maximum 1 hour emissions from a project, and
  • The Chronic Hazard Index which is the long term non-cancer exposure, greater than 1 hour and less than or equal to 1 year, to the emissions from a project.

To perform a Risk Management Analysis, a complex computer modeling program is used to determine the concentration of the identified pollutant(s) at the location of the nearest resident(s) or worksite(s). The projected concentration of each pollutant is then compared to National and State standards, and is analyzed for the potential to create a health risk.

Projects or permit units with a cancer risk equal to or exceeding 1 in one million are required to satisfy Toxic Best Available Control Technology (T-BACT) requirements, by installing the best technology to control those emissions. Projects or total facilities with cancer risk equal to or exceeding 20 in one million are not approvable. Projects or total facilities with acute or chronic hazard index equal to or exceeding 1 are not approvable.

In addition, per District Rule 2201, an Ambient Air Quality Analysis (AAQA) is required to be performed for all New Source Review (NSR) projects subject to public notice. The purpose of the AAQA analysis is to determine whether a new or modified Stationary Source will cause or make worse a violation of a State or National ambient Air Quality Standard (AAQS).

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