California Revisits CEQA, the State's Controversial Environmental Review Statute


California lawmakers are poised again this year to try to reform the state's far-reaching environmental review statute known as "CEQA" - the California Environmental Quality Act. What may make this time different is the control of one party - the California Democratic Party - over both the Governorship and the state legislature.

Like the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), CEQA requires an assessment of potentially significant environmental impacts of projects subject to government approvals. But where NEPA is procedural only, CEQA has a "substantive" component - it requires the conditioning of approval decisions upon commitments by project proponents to fully mitigate potentially adverse impacts, even where mitigation is not required by other environmental laws and regulations. In addition, CEQA is implicated in a much broader range of governmental decisions, from the promulgation of state-wide regulatory programs, to the adoption of regional land use plans, as well as the approval of individual projects at a local level.

CEQA can be a powerful tool to stop or improve poorly-conceived development proposals, but it is more notorious for its widespread use by special interest groups as a weapon to delay or block projects that may be necessary or desirable from a larger community perspective. As a result, there have been numerous attempts over the years to selectively revise the law, either by limiting the scope of its application or by making its specific requirements less onerous to meet on a case-by-case basis. Momentum is now building to attempt even more comprehensive reforms of CEQA, and any developer contemplating new projects in California will want to consider engagement with the legislative process.

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Last edited by outdoorwire; 09/27/15 07:52 PM.

John Stewart
Vice President, BlueRibbon Coalition