What is CEQA?
CEQA is an acronym for the California Environmental Quality Act, a state law that requires California agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and describe measures which can be taken to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible. An agency's action can be to approve its own project or to permit another proponent's project.
What is an EIR and why is it prepared?
EIR is an acronym for Environmental Impact Report, a document required by CEQA when an agency determines that a proposed project may have a significant effect on the environment. An EIR evaluates the proposed project’s potential impacts on the environment, and recommends mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate those impacts. Decision-makers use information in an EIR to help determine whether or not to approve a project.
What kind of information does an EIR contain?
An EIR describes the need for a project, the location of a project and how it will be constructed. It evaluates the how the existing environment could be changed if the project were approved and provides feasible mitigation measures to avoid or reduce those expected changes. An EIR inventories the existing environment in different categories called the environmental setting, including:
· agriculture and forestry resources
· air quality
· biological resources
· cultural and paleontological resources
· geology and soils
· greenhouse gases
· hazards and hazardous materials
· hydrology and water quality
· land use and planning
· mineral resources
· noise and vibration
· population and housing
· public services
· transportation and traffic
· utilities and service systems
How does the public participate in the EIR process?
The public can participate at several points during EIR preparation. The process starts when an agency publishes a Notice of Preparation (NOP) of an EIR in a local newspaper of general circulation. This starts a 30-day period where the public can provide written suggestions on what information the EIR should contain. During this period, the agency may also hold scoping meetings to receive oral and written comments from the public. Notice of any scoping meetings will generally be listed in the NOP. Once the draft EIR is complete, it is released for review, typically for 45-days, and a Notice of Completion (NOC) is published in a local newspaper. The draft EIR is placed in local libraries and/or posted on a website to make it available for review, and written comments may be submitted by the public during this period. Sometimes the agency will hold a public hearing to receive oral and written public comments. Notice of any hearings will generally be listed in the NOC. Both the NOP and NOC review periods provide the public with an opportunity to shape the contents of the EIR.
What happens to the public comments that are received?
The CEQA process requires a lead agency to respond to each written comment received during the draft EIR review period. Each individual comment is evaluated for relevance to the draft EIR and a response is prepared. In some instances, a comment may result in revision to the draft EIR. The collection of comments and responses together with the draft EIR constitute what is called the Final EIR (FEIR). The FEIR must then be certified by the lead agency as adequate and in compliance with CEQA before a project can be approved.
What is a Subsequent EIR and how is it different from a regular EIR?
A subsequent EIR (sometimes called an SEIR) is a follow-up document to a previously certified FEIR. When a project has been included in an earlier FEIR, but the project or environmental conditions change substantially before the project is constructed, CEQA requires the changes to be re-analyzed to determine if any new significant environmental impacts may occur. A good example of this process is the San Diego County Water Authority's Emergency Storage Project (ESP) that was reviewed in a FEIR certified in 1997. Since then, the San Vicente Pipeline portion of the ESP has undergone changes in design, location and type of construction. In 2002, the SDCWA prepared a SEIR to analyze these project changes. The SEIR must also be certified by the lead agency as adequate and in compliance with CEQA before the project changes can be approved.
Frequently Used Acronyms
EIR- Environmental Impact Report
CEQA - California Environmental Quality Act
DEIR - Draft Environmental Impact Report
FEIR - Final Environmental Impact Report
SEIR - Subsequent or Supplemental Environmental Impact Report
NOP - Notice of Preparation [of an EIR] to be prepared.
NOC - Notice of Completion [of a DEIR] and availability for public review.
Glossary - California Environmental Quality Act Terms
Certification- A decision by the lead agency that the FEIR has been completed in compliance with CEQA and that the information contained therein reflects the lead agency's independent judgment and analyses. The lead agency must consider the information in the FEIR prior to approving the project.
Environmental Impact- The direct and indirect physical changes that are caused by the project. Impacts can be classified in four general categories: 1) beneficial impact; 2) less than significant impact; 3) less than significant impact with incorporation of mitigation measures; or 4) significant and unavoidable impact.
Environmental Setting- The existing physical conditions that may be affected by a proposed project, including both natural and man-made conditions.
Findings– Written determinations made by a public agency for each significant impact identified in the certified FEIR, accompanied by a brief explanation of the rational for each determination. The lead agency must make findings prior to approving the project.
Lead Agency- The public agency responsible for preparing an EIR that complies with the provisions of CEQA.
Mitigation Measure- Feasible actions which could minimize or eliminate significant adverse impacts; mitigation is not necessary for impacts that are not significant.
Mitigation Monitoring or Mitigation Reporting Plan- A written document, adopted when the lead agency approves a project, to ensure that mitigation measures or other project revisions identified in the certified FEIR to reduce or avoid impacts are implemented. Inspectors/monitors may be placed on-site during construction to record proper implementation of mitigation measures. The Plan remains active until all mitigation measures have been satisfactorily completed.
Project Alternatives- A reasonable range of options to the proposed project whereby most of the basic project objectives can be feasibly attained and significant environmental impacts can be avoided or substantially lessened. At least two are required in every EIR: 1) no project alternative; and 2) environmentally superior alternative. The range of alternatives is developed by considering the economic, social, environmental, legal and technical merits of various project options.
Project Description- A project description is an essential element of an EIR. It should minimally include the location of a project (with maps), a description of the facility to be built, construction techniques, the location of any additional work and staging areas, as well as any access roads. It should also include a description of the long-term operation and maintenance of the facility.
Statement of Overriding Considerations- A written statement by the lead agency to support a decision to take an action even though it results in significant and unavoidable impacts to the environment. The statement contains the specific reasons why the benefits of the action outweigh the environmental detriments.
Link to the CEQA website
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