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 Natural Resources Agency maintains an interactive flowchart summarizing the CEQA process.

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.