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CEQA requires all public agencies in California to identify and consider the environmental (or physical) effects of their actions related in approving “projects” as defined by the Act. The underlying intent of CEQA is for public agencies to fully disclose all potential significant environmental impacts of a project and require mitigation of those impacts, to the extent feasible, prior to approving the project. Generally, an “Initial Study” is first prepared as a quick evaluation of whether a project might have significant effects. If the initial study indicates a potentially significant effect, the public (or lead) agency must prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that evaluates, in detail, all of those potential significant impacts. The EIR must identify feasible mitigation measures to reduce the potential impacts, as well as identify alternative ways to meet the project objectives that result in fewer impacts.
If a lead agency determines that a project is unlikely to have significant environmental impacts, it prepares a “Negative Declaration” that explains the basis for that determination. Negative Declarations and EIRs are subject to public review and comment periods. Both must be certified by the lead agency before action can be taken on a project.