The following summary of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is from the California Resources Agency, its programs CERES and LUPIN, and the Governor's Office of Planning and Research. For more information, visit http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/.
The basic goal of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Res. Code §21000 et seq.) is to develop and maintain a high-quality environment now and in the future, while the specific goals of CEQA are for California's public agencies to:
- identify the significant environmental effects of their actions; and, either
- avoid those significant environmental effects, where feasible; or
- mitigate those significant environmental effects, where feasible.
CEQA applies to "projects" proposed to be undertaken or requiring approval by State and local government agencies.
"Projects" are activities which have the potential to have
a physical impact on the environment and may include the enactment of
zoning ordinances, the issuance of conditional use permits and the approval
of tentative subdidvision maps.
Where a project requires approvals from more than one public agency, CEQA requires ones of these public agencies to serve as the "lead agency."
A "lead agency" must complete the environmental review process required by CEQA. The most basic steps of the environmental review process are:
- Determine if the activity is a "project" subject to CEQA;
- Determine if the "project" is exempt from CEQA;
- Perform an Initial Study to identify the environmental impacts of the project and determine whether the identified impacts are "significant."
Based on its findings of "significance", the lead agency prepares one of the following environmental review documents:
- Negative Declaration if it finds no "significant" impacts;
- Mitigated Negative Declaration if it finds "significant" impacts but revises the project to avoid or mitigate those significant impacts;
- Environmental Impact Report (EIR) if it finds "significant"
While there is no ironclad definition of "significance", the
State CEQA Guidelines provides criteria to lead agencies in determining
whether a project may have significant effects in Article 5.
The purpose of an EIR is to provide State and local agencies and the general public with detailed information on the potentially significant environmental effects which a proposed project is likely to have and to list ways which the significant environmental effects may be minimized and indicate alternatives to the project.