CEQA: The California Environmental Quality Act

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) generally requires state and local government agencies to inform decision makers and the public about the potential environmental impacts of proposed projects, and to reduce those environmental impacts to the extent feasible. If a project subject to CEQA will not cause any adverse environmental impacts, a public agency may adopt a brief document known as a Negative Declaration. If the project may cause adverse environmental impacts, the public agency must prepare a more detailed study called an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). An EIR contains in-depth studies of potential impacts, measures to reduce or avoid those impacts, and an analysis of alternatives to the project. A key feature of the CEQA process is the opportunity for the public to review and provide input on both Negative Declarations and EIRs.

The laws and rules governing the CEQA process are contained in the CEQA statute (Public Resources Code Section 21000 and following), the CEQA Guidelines (California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 15000 and following), published court decisions interpreting CEQA, and locally adopted CEQA procedures.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) serves several important functions in the administration of CEQA. First, together with the Natural Resources Agency, OPR develops the CEQA Guidelines. The CEQA Guidelines are administrative regulations interpreting the CEQA statute and published court decisions. Second, OPR runs the State Clearinghouse which coordinates state level review of CEQA documents. Third, in certain circumstances, OPR may designate a lead agency. Finally, OPR provides technical assistance to state and local government agencies, including the development of technical advisories on selected CEQA topics.

Recent Changes

Recent CEQA Guidelines Update

The California Natural Resources Agency, with assistance from OPR, recently completed a comprehensive update to the CEQA Guidelines in late 2018.

In January 2018, OPR transmitted its proposal for the comprehensive updates to the CEQA Guidelines to the California Natural Resources Agency. Among other things, this package included proposed updates related to analyzing transportation impacts pursuant to Senate Bill 743, proposed updates to the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions, and revised Section 15126.2(a) in response to the California Supreme Court’s decision in California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (2015) 62 Cal.4th 369.

In late 2018, the Natural Resources Agency finalized the updates to the CEQA Guidelines. The final adopted text, final statement of reasons (including comments and responses to comments), and related materials are posted under “Documents.” See the Natural Resources Agency CEQA page for the rulemaking documents.

The changes have been approved by the Office of Administrative Law and were filed with the Secretary of State. The updated Guidelines became effective on December 28, 2018. The revisions to the Guidelines are prospective and new requirements will apply to steps in the CEQA process not yet undertaken by the effective date of the revisions. (CEQA Guidelines, § 15007, subd. (b).) The revised Guidelines will apply to a CEQA document only if the revised Guidelines are in effect when the document is sent out for public review. (CEQA Guidelines, § 15007, subd. (c).)

More information on the specific proposal to update the CEQA Guideline addressing transportation analyses can be found at Transportation Impacts (SB 743).

What are the CEQA Guidelines?

The CEQA Guidelines are administrative regulations governing implementation of the California Environmental Quality Act (Public Resources Code section 21000 and following). The CEQA Guidelines reflect the requirements set forth in the Public Resources Code, as well as court decisions interpreting the statute and practical planning considerations. Among other things, the CEQA Guidelines explain how to determine whether an activity is subject to environmental review, what steps are involved in the environmental review process, and the required content of environmental documents. The CEQA Guidelines apply to public agencies throughout the state, including local governments, special districts, and state agencies.

Public Resources Code section 21083 requires the Office of Planning and Research and the Natural Resources Agency to periodically update the CEQA Guidelines.

To review the CEQA statute and the CEQA Guidelines in their entirety, please see the Natural Resources Agency’s website.