Frequently Asked CEQA Questions

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)Link to external website. was adopted in 1970 and incorporated in the Public Resources Code §§21000-21177. Its basic purposes are to: inform governmental decision makers and the public about the potential significant environmental effects of proposed activities; identify ways that environmental damage can be avoided or significantly reduced; require changes in projects through the use of alternatives or mitigation measures when feasible; and disclose to the public the reasons why a project was approved if significant environmental effects are involved. CEQA applies to projects undertaken, funded or requiring an issuance of a permit by a public agency. The analysis of a project required by CEQA usually takes the form of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), Negative Declaration (ND), or Environmental Assessment (EA).
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 established national policies and goals for the protection of the environment. NEPA directs all federal agencies to give appropriate consideration to the environmental effects of their decision making and to prepare detailed environmental impact statements (EIS) on recommendations or reports on proposals for legislation and other major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the environment. NEPA is divided into two titles. Title I outlines a basic national charter for protection of the environment. Title II establishes the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) which monitors the progress made toward achieving NEPA goals, advises the president on environmental issues and provides guidance to other federal agencies on compliance with NEPA.
A lead agency is the public agency that has the principal responsibility for carrying out or approving a project that is subject to CEQA. In general, a local government agency with jurisdiction over general land uses is the preferred public agency serving as lead agency. The lead agency is responsible for determining the appropriate environmental document, as well as its preparation. Under NEPA, the lead agency is a federal agency with a similar role, i.e. is the agency with the primary responsibility for preparing an EIS.
The South Coast AQMD typically acts as lead agency for its own projects (e.g., adoption of rules, regulations, or plans) or permit projects filed with the South Coast AQMD where the South Coast AQMD has primary approval authority over the project and the project has not previously undergone a CEQA analysis. The South Coast AQMD is not a lead agency for land use projects such as shopping malls, housing tracts, commercial or industrial parks, sports stadiums, etc. For these types of projects the South Coast AQMD has no jurisdictional approval authority. If you have questions on these types of land use projects, you need to contact the city or county in which the project is located.
A responsible agency is a public agency with discretionary approval authority over a portion of a CEQA project (e.g., projects requiring a South Coast AQMD permit). As a responsible agency, the South Coast AQMD is available to the lead agency and project proponent for early consultation on a project to apprise them of applicable rules and regulations, and provides guidance on applicable air quality analysis methodologies or other air quality-related issues, etc. Under NEPA, the federal agency that plays a role similar to the responsible agency under CEQA is called a cooperating agency.
A commenting agency is a public agency with "jurisdiction by law" over a particular natural resource, but is neither a lead agency nor a responsible agency. The South Coast AQMD, for example, is the sole and exclusive local agency in the district with the responsibility for comprehensive air pollution control, and therefore reviews and comments on the air quality analysis in environmental documents submitted to the South Coast AQMD.
A trustee agency is a state agency having jurisdiction by law over natural resources affected by a project which are held in trust for the people of the State of California. Trustee agencies include: The California Department of Fish and Game with regard to the fish and wildlife of the state, to designated rare or endangered native plants, and to game refuges, ecological reserves, and other areas administered by the department; the State Lands Commission with regard to state owned "sovereign" land such as the beds of navigable waters and state school lands; the State Department of Parks and Recreation with regard to units of State Park System; and the University of California with regard to sites within the Natural Land and Water Reserves System.
CEQA applies to projects undertaken by a public agency, funded by a public agency or requires an issuance of a permit by a public agency. A "project" means the whole of an action that has a potential for resulting in physical change to the environment, and is an activity that may be subject to several discretionary approvals by governmental agencies. A "project" may include construction activities, clearing or grading of land, improvements to existing structures, and activities or equipment involving the issuance of a permit.
A project is exempt from CEQA if by statute, if considered ministerial or categorical, or where it can be seen with certainty that there is no possibility that the activity in question may have a significant effect on the environment (general rule exemption). Statutory exemptions are those granted by the Legislature and the complete list of statutory exemptions can be found in the CEQA Guidelines, Article 18. Projects are ministerial when a the government decision involves no discretion by the public official as to the wisdom or manner of carrying out the project, such as a building permit. A categorical exemption is based on a finding by the Secretary for Resources that the class of projects does not have a significant effect on the environment. The list of categorical projects can be found in the CEQA Guidelines, Article 19.
An environmental impact report (EIR) is a detailed report written by the lead agency describing and analyzing the significant environmental effects of a proposed project, identifying alternatives and discussing ways to reduce or avoid the possible environmental damage. An EIR is prepared when the lead agency finds substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment. An environmental assessment (EA) is a substitute for the EIR under the Certified Regulatory Program. An environmental impact statement (EIS) is an environmental impact document prepared pursuant to NEPA, in place of the term EIR which is used in CEQA.
A negative declaration (neg dec or ND) is a brief report written by the lead agency describing the reasons that a proposed project, not exempt from CEQA, will not have a significant effect on the environment and therefore does not require the preparation of an EIR. An ND is prepared when the lead agency finds that there is no substantial evidence that a project may have a significant environmental effect.
A notice of preparation (NOP) is a brief notice sent by the lead agency to notify the responsible agencies, trustee agencies, and involved federal agencies that the lead agency plans to prepare an EIR for the project. The purpose of the notice is to solicit guidance from those agencies as to the scope and content of the environmental information to be included in the EIR.
An initial study (IS) is a preliminary analysis prepared by the lead agency to determine whether an EIR or a negative declaration must be prepared or to identify the significant environmental effects to be analyzed in an EIR.
Significant effect on the environment means a substantial, or potentially substantial, adverse change in any of the physical conditions within the area affected by the project including land, air, water, minerals, flora, fauna, ambient noise, and objects of historic or aesthetic significance. The determination of whether a project may have a significant effect on the environment calls for careful judgment on the part of the lead agency involved, based to the extent possible on scientific and factual data. The lead agency shall consider direct physical changes in the environment and reasonably foreseeable indirect physical changes in the environment, which may be caused by the project.
California Public Resources Code §21080.5 allows public agencies with regulatory programs to prepare a plan or other written document in lieu of an environmental impact report once the Secretary of the Resources Agency has certified the regulatory program. Under its certified regulatory program, the SCAQMD prepares substitute Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) or negative declarations, which are called environmental assessments (EAs). The South Coast AQMD‘s regulatory program was certified by the Secretary of the Resources Agency on March 1, 1989, and is codified as South Coast AQMD Rule 110 (PDF). Regulatory programs apply to agencies who adopt or approve standards, rules, regulations or plans, or involve the issuance of a lease, permit, license, certificate, or other entitlement of use.
A statute of limitations is the period of time someone can file a court action challenging the approval of a project. The time varies depending on the specific CEQA requirement applicable to each project.
The South Coast AQMD has formalized its environmental review process by developing Form 400-CEQA to be completed by the permit project applicant. Form 400-CEQA is a screening tool used by the South Coast AQMD to determine if the project is exempt from CEQA, or if an analysis of potential environmental impacts is necessary.
The South Coast AQMD Air Quality Analysis Guidance Handbook (Handbook) is being revised and is intended to assist the CEQA practitioner with conducting an air quality analysis for their CEQA documents. The Handbook provides baseline information, recommendations for significance thresholds for both local and regional impacts, how to calculate emissions from both the construction and the operational phases of the project, how to assess the toxic impact and suggestions to best mitigate adverse air quality impacts of the project. (The Handbook was previously called the CEQA Air Quality Handbook)
The CEQA Air Quality Handbook (South Coast AQMD, 1993) is still the currently available guidance document for preparing air quality analyses, but is in the process of being revised (and will be called the South Coast AQMD Air Quality Analysis Guidance Handbook). The 1993 CEQA Air Quality Handbook is still available, however, there are sections that are obsolete. A list of these obsolete sections can be found on the CEQA Air Quality Handbook (1993) webpage. Copies of the CEQA Air Quality Handbook (South Coast AQMD, 1993) can be obtained by contacting South Coast AQMD's Subscription Services at (909) 396-3720.
The screening tables should no longer be used under any circumstances because they are based on obsolete mobile source emission factors and trip generation data. The reader should use the methodologies in the Appendix to Chapter 9 of the CEQA Air Quality Handbook or use a land use model, such as CalEEMod. Other air quality analysis methodologies not in the CEQA Air Quality Handbook are acceptable as long as they are well documented, including source(s), assumptions, equations used, calculations, etc.
URBEMIS stands for "Urban Emissions Model" and was originally developed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as a modeling tool to assist local public agencies with estimating air quality impacts from land use projects when preparing a CEQA environmental analysis. The model was developed as a user-friendly computer program that estimates construction, area source, and operational air pollution emissions from a wide variety of land use development projects in California, such as residential neighborhoods, shopping centers, office buildings, etc. The model also identifies mitigation measures and emission reductions associated with specific mitigation measures. URBEMIS 2007 for Windows (version 9.2.0) is the latest revised edition. Frequently asked questions regarding the URBEMIS model can be found on the URBEMIS FAQ webpageLink to external website.. It should be noted that the South Coast AQMD no longer provides support for the URBEMIS model.
If you have any questions or problems with the URBEMIS model, please send an e-mail to to external website.
CalEEMod is a statewide land use emissions computer model designed to provide a uniform platform for government agencies, land use planners, and environmental professionals to quantify potential criteria pollutant and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with both construction and operational from a variety of land use projects. The model quantifies direct emissions from construction and operation (including vehicle use), as well as indirect emissions, such as GHG emissions from energy production, solid waste handling, vegetation planting and/or removal, and water conveyance. The model incorporates Pavley standards and Low Carbon Fuel standards into the mobile source emission factors. Further, the model identifies mitigation measures to reduce criteria pollutant and GHG emissions along with calculating the benefits achieved from measures chosen by the user. The GHG mitigation measures were recently developed and adopted by the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association (CAPCOA). The model is an accurate and comprehensive tool for quantifying air quality impacts from land use projects throughout California. The model can be used for a variety of situations where an air quality analysis is necessary or desirable such as California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) documents, National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) documents, pre-project planning, compliance with local air quality rules and regulations, etc. For further information, installation procedures, and frequently asked questions, please visit the CalEEMod webpage.
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