How the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Works

The Air Resources Board

This photo, taken in 1956, shows the skyline of downtown Los Angeles including the city hall (center), the United States Courthouse (left) and Hall of Justice (right) obscured by smog.
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After World War II, California, like many other states, enacted a number of laws to try to regulate air pollution emitted by a growing society that was buying cars, building factories and constructing roads and freeways at an incredible rate.


In 1967, the Federal Air Quality Act was signed into law, and it gave California the ability to enforce its own, stricter emissions regulations for new vehicles. This was mostly due to the fact that California was suffering from the worst air quality

in the nation at the time. That same year, legislation signed by Governor Ronald Reagan created the Air Resources Board, and mandated that each county have an air pollution control district to enforce local, state and federal air laws.

Today, the board has nine main divisions:

  • Administrative Services Division: includes customer service, human resources and accounting
  • Enforcement Division: enforces the laws and regulations regarding sources of air pollution
  • Mobile Source Control Division and Mobile Source Operations Division: regulate cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, construction vehicles, marine vehicles and small engines
  • Monitoring and Laboratory Division: monitors air quality trends in California
  • Office of Information Services: provides information and Internet systems management
  • Planning and Technical Support Division: implements statewide strategies to improve air quality
  • Research Division: gathers scientific information and develops technology to protect public health from the effects of air pollution
  • Stationary Source Division: monitors and regulate motor vehicle fuels, consumer products and stationary sources, like power plants

[source: California Air Resources Board]

The 11 board members are appointed by the state's governor and serve as long as he or she wants them to. Five of the board positions must be filled by one elected official from each air quality district. These districts include San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin Valley and the greater Los Angeles region, plus one member from any other California district.

The remaining six positions are filled by experts in engineering, science, agriculture, law and medicine, among others. Two of the board members are called public members. These public members can be anyone who is not an elected official. Typically, public members have expertise within the topics the board addresses.

The only person on the board who is a full-time employee is its chairman. The other members have day jobs or are elected officials. The board meets every month with the exception of August, and its meetings are open to the public. The board also conducts workshops on different issues across the state.

PZEV, SULEV, and ULEV -- you may have read these acronyms in the news, or automotive journals over the past few years, but what do they really mean? In the next section, we'll talk about what California's emissions standards are all about.