California Environmental Quality Act
The California Environmental Quality Act, commonly known as CEQA, serves a key foundation for the state’s environmental protection efforts. The law requires that projects with the potential for significant impacts on the physical environment undergo an environmental review. [See also California water rights.]
Since its passage in 1970, CEQA (based on the National Environmental Policy Act) has served as a model for similar legislation in other states.
Along the way, CEQA has drawn praise and criticism, and there have been recent efforts to change it.
Under CEQA, lead public agencies are required to prepare and submit for public review environmental impact reports (EIRs) on major projects under their purview with potentially significant environmental impacts. Such impacts can include damage to wetland habitat or threats to public health. After the completion of environmental analysis, the public can then comment. The agency filing the environmental review must respond to the comments. Lastly, if a proposed project would cause a significant environmental impact, the project proponent must make efforts to mitigate each impact.
Initially, CEQA applied only to public projects. California’s Supreme Court has since extended CEQA to most projects in California, including private developments that require a state permit.
According to the state’s CEQA administrator, the California Natural Resources Agency, “all state and local agencies must give major consideration to environmental protection in regulating public and private activities.”