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Frequently Asked Questions About CEQA


What is CEQA?
When and why was it enacted?
Who must comply with CEQA?
If it applies, what are the basic requirements of environmental review under CEQA?
What are the CEQA Guidelines?
How are the Guidelines crafted?
How often are the Guidelines amended?
Who enforces CEQA? What role does the Resources Agency have in enforcement of CEQA?
What aspects of CEQA compliance is the Secretary for Resources responsible?




What is CEQA?

CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.

When and why was it enacted?

The impetus for CEQA can be traced to the passage of the first federal environmental protection statute in 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In response to this federal law, the California State Assembly created the Assembly Select Committee on Environmental Quality to study the possibility of supplementing NEPA through state law. This legislative committee, in 1970, issued a report entitled The Environmental Bill of Rights, which called for a California counterpart to NEPA. Later that same year, acting on the recommendations of the select committee, the legislature passed, and Governor Reagan signed, the CEQA statute.

Who must comply with CEQA?

CEQA applies to certain activities of state and local public agencies. A public agency must comply with CEQA when it undertakes an activity defined by CEQA as a "project." A project is an activity undertaken by a public agency or a private activity which must receive some discretionary approval (meaning that the agency has the authority to deny the requested permit or approval) from a government agency which may cause either a direct physical change in the environment or a reasonably foreseeable indirect change in the environment.

Most proposals for physical development in California are subject to the provisions of CEQA, as are many governmental decisions which do not immediately result in physical development (such as adoption of a general or community plan). Every development project which requires a discretionary governmental approval will require at least some environmental review pursuant to CEQA, unless an exemption applies.

If it applies, what are the basic requirements of environmental review under CEQA?

The environmental review required imposes both procedural and substantive requirements. At a minimum, an initial review of the project and its environmental effects must be conducted. Depending on the potential effects, a further, and more substantial, review may be conducted in the form of an environmental impact report (EIR). A project may not be approved as submitted if feasible alternatives or mitigation measures are able to substantially lessen the significant environmental effects of the project.


What are the CEQA Guidelines?

The Guidelines are the regulations that explain and interpret the law for both the public agencies required to administer CEQA and for the public generally. They are found in the California Code of Regulations, in Chapter 3 of Title 14. The Guidelines provide objectives, criteria and procedures for the orderly evaluation of projects and the preparation of environmental impact reports, negative declarations, and mitigated negative declarations by public agencies. The fundamental purpose of the Guidelines is to make the CEQA process comprehensible to those who administer it, to those subject to it, and to those for whose benefit it exists. To that end, the Guidelines are more than mere regulations which implement CEQA as they incorporate and interpret both the statutory mandates of CEQA and the principles advanced by judicial decisions.

How are the Guidelines crafted?

The Governor's Office of Planning and Research prepares and develops proposed amendments to the Guidelines and transmits them to the Secretary for Resources. The Secretary for Resources is responsible for certification and adoption of the Guidelines and amendments thereto. Prior to final certification and adoption, and pursuant to the procedures in the Administrative Procedure Act, the Secretary for Resources makes the proposed language available to members of the public, provides for at least a 45 day written comment period, and provides public hearings in which to receive oral testimony on the proposals. All public comments, whether received in writing or orally at a public hearing, are considered by the Secretary in determining whether to adopt the proposed amendments prepared by the Office of Planning and Research. Once edited and enriched by the practical experience and wisdom of individual public comments, amendments are adopted and sent to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) for review and final approval. Guidelines approved by OAL are deposited with the Secretary of State and go into immediate effect.

How often are the Guidelines amended?

Revision of the CEQA Guidelines is an on-going process. By statute, the Secretary of Resources is required to review and consider amendments to the Guidelines every two years. Annual changes to CEQA and evolving case law make revision to the Guidelines necessary on a continual basis. By the time one revision is completed, another one begins. Because the subject is so large and complex, a definitive, one-time revision is not possible. The actual process of amending the Guidelines is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act and is the same as that described above in "How are the Guidelines crafted?"

Who enforces CEQA? What role does the Resources Agency have in enforcement of CEQA?

CEQA is a self-executing statute. Public agencies are entrusted with compliance with CEQA and its provisions are enforced, as necessary, by the public through litigation and the threat thereof. While the Resources Agency is charged with the adoption of CEQA Guidelines, and may often assist public agencies in the interpretation of CEQA, it is each public agency's duty to determine what is and is not subject to CEQA. As such, the Resources Agency does not review the facts and exercise of discretion by public agencies in individual situations. In sum, the Agency does not enforce CEQA, nor does it review for compliance with CEQA the many state and local agency actions which are subject to CEQA.

What aspects of CEQA compliance is the Secretary for Resources responsible?

In addition to adopting the CEQA Guidelines and amendments thereto, the Secretary for Resources possesses the following responsibilities:

1) Makes findings that a class of projects given categorical exemptions will not have a significant effect on the environment;

2) Certifies state environmental regulatory programs which meet specified standards as being exempt from certain provisions of CEQA;

3) Receives and files notices of completion, determination, and exemption; and

4) Provides assistance in interpreting the provisions of CEQA and the CEQA Guidelines.