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Adopted in 1970, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Public Resources Code Section 21000 et seq) 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. Subsequently, the CEQA Guidelines (14 CCR 15000, et. seq.) were promulgated to facilitate the process of evaluating project impacts and CEQA determinations by lead agencies across the state of California. The CEQA Guidelines incorporate and interpret both the statutory mandates of CEQA and the principles advanced by judicial decisions and new statutes.

The CEQA guidelines are immensely important to California businesses and public agencies, as these regulations affect every sector of the California economy and thousands of “projects” within the state. A “project” is generally defined to include a vast array of private and public sector actions, including, commercial constructions, industrial facility expansions, modifications to power plants, highways and other public works, utility projects, residential developments and many others. Updating the CEQA Guidelines is a multi-year process, with the last comprehensive update conducted in the late-1990s. The California Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) seek to make the environmental review process more efficient and meaningful, as well as to conform to statutory changes and case law. Since 2013, OPR and CNRA have engaged in an iterative and extensive process to develop the most recent CEQA Guidelines proposal. This extensive outreach process has included over 200 public meetings and four years of comprehensive review.

The CEQA Guidelines proposed changes include the following key elements:

Efficiency Improvements

  • Promoting use of existing regulatory standards as “thresholds of significance;”
  • Updating the CEQA Checklist to remove redundant questions, consolidate related topics and include new key questions;
  • Including changes to make use of programmatic EIRs easier and clarifying rules on tiering;
  • Clarifying use of exemptions and enhancing opportunities to use exemptions near transit facilities and for redeveloping existing structures; and
  • Updating the requirements to be consistent with recent case la.

Substantive Improvements

  • Providing guidance on energy impact analysis;
  • Proposing guidance on water supply impacts;
  • Proposing updates to analyze transportation impacts pursuant to Senate Bill (SB) 743 and specify vehicle
    miles travelled is the appropriate transportation impact measure for most projects; and
  • Proposing updates to analyze greenhouse gas emissions reflecting recent case law.

Technical Improvements
The package also includes many technical changes including:

  • Evaluation of hazards;
  • How to defer specific details of mitigation measures until after project approval,
  • The duty of lead agencies to provide detailed responses to comments on a project;
  • Selecting the lead agency;
  • Posting notices with county clerks; and
  • Clarifying the definition of “discretionary.”

The CNRA will soon begin the formal administrative rulemaking process under the Administrative Procedure Act; this will include additional public review and may lead to additional revisions. After completing the rulemaking process, the Secretary of the CNRA may adopt these proposed changes. Click here to review the proposed CEQA Guidelines changes, here for more information on the process and here to sign up to receive future notices about these updates.

For more information on the CEQA Guidelines Updates and other CEQA requirements, please contact Valerie Rosenkrantz with Trinity's California operations at