CEQA and Climate Change

The accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over time is already causing the climate to change with more significant changes to come. Since a key purpose of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.) is to maintain the quality of California’s environment, both now and into the future, reducing the risk of climate change is an important objective under CEQA.

CEQA Guidelines

By enacting Senate Bill 97 in 2007, California’s lawmakers expressly recognized the need to analyze greenhouse gas emissions as a part of the CEQA process. SB 97 required OPR to develop, and the California Natural Resources Agency (Agency) to adopt, amendments to the CEQA Guidelines addressing the analysis and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Those amendments became effective on March 18, 2010.

In late 2018, the Agency finalized amendments to the CEQA Guidelines, including changes to CEQA Guidelines section 15064.4, which addresses the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions. The amendments were approved by the Office of Administrative Law and filed with the Secretary of State. The amendments became effective on December 28, 2018.

The revision of CEQA Guidelines section 15064.4 clarified several points, including the following:

  • Lead agencies must analyze the greenhouse gas emissions of proposed projects. (See CEQA Guidelines, § 15064.4, subd. (a).)
  • The focus of the lead agency’s analysis should be on the project’s effect on climate change, rather than simply focusing on the quantity of emissions and how that quantity of emissions compares to statewide or global emissions. (See CEQA Guidelines, § 15064.4, subd. (b).)
  • The impacts analysis of greenhouse gas emissions is global in nature and thus should be considered in a broader context. A project’s incremental contribution may be cumulatively considerable even if it appears relatively small compared to statewide, national or global emissions. (See CEQA Guidelines, § 15064.4, subd. (b).)
  • Lead agencies should consider a timeframe for the analysis that is appropriate for the project. (See CEQA Guidelines, § 15064.4, subd. (b).)
  • A lead agency’s analysis must reasonably reflect evolving scientific knowledge and state regulatory schemes. (See CEQA Guidelines, § 15064.4, subd. (b).)
  • Lead agencies may rely on plans prepared pursuant to section 15183.5 (Plans for the Reduction of Greenhouse Gases) in evaluating a project’s greenhouse gas emissions. (See CEQA Guidelines, § 15064.4, subd. (b)(3).)
  • In determining the significance of a project’s impacts, the lead agency may consider a project’s consistency with the State’s long-term climate goals or strategies, provided that substantial evidence supports the agency’s analysis of how those goals or strategies address the project’s incremental contribution to climate change and its conclusion that the project’s incremental contribution is consistent with those plans, goals, or strategies. (See CEQA Guidelines, § 15064.4, subd. (b)(3).)
  • The lead agency has discretion to select the model or methodology it considers most appropriate to enable decision makers to intelligently take into account the project’s incremental contribution to climate change. (See CEQA Guidelines, § 15064.4, subd. (c).)

CEQA and Climate Change Advisory

On December 28, 2018, OPR released a discussion draft update to our 2008 advisory suggesting relevant ways to address climate change in CEQA analyses. This discussion draft incorporates developments since 2008, including the regulatory changes made to the CEQA Guidelines in late 2018 by the Agency. OPR seeks your input on the discussion draft. In particular, we seek comments on the following:

  1. Are there any important points that we missed that we should address?
  2. Do you have any suggestions on how to clarify the topics that we did address?

Since this discussion draft addresses the existing provisions in the CEQA statute and Guidelines as well as case law, OPR encourages commenters to focus their input on those directives.

Input may be submitted electronically to comments@opr.ca.gov. Please submit all comments before Friday, March 15 at 5:00 pm.