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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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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
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.