Frequently Asked Questions
The California Environmental Quality Act is a California statute passed in 1970 for environmental protection throughout the state. CEQA does not directly regulate land use but instead requires state and local agencies within California to follow a protocol of analysis and public disclosure of environmental impacts of proposed projects and adopt all feasible measures to mitigate those impacts. CEQA makes environmental protection a mandatory part of every California state and local agency’s decision-making process.
CEQA only applies to development activities that meet the criteria for a “Project”. A “Project” is any activity by a public or private party that requires discretionary judgment or deliberation by a public agency in determining whether the activity will be approved, or if a permit will be issued. Certain types of Projects are specifically exempted from CEQA due to their low risk of causing significant environmental impacts.
The National Environmental Policy Act is a federal law passed in 1970 that requires Federal Agencies to evaluate the potential environmental effects of their actions. NEPA laid the foundation for CEQA to be adopted in California. While similar, NEPA is much narrower in practice as compared to CEQA.
NEPA applies to any activity or entity that receives federal funding, including the tribes of indigenous peoples in California. Additionally an entity that works by a federal agency, or federal agency permit.
CEQA only applies to development activities that meet the criteria for a “Project”. A “Project” is any activity by a public or private party that requires discretionary judgment or deliberation by a public agency in determining whether the project will be approved, or if a permit will be issued. Certain types of projects are specifically exempted from CEQA due to their low risk of causing significant environmental impacts.
If an activity is deemed a “Project” and is not eligible for an exemption, an Initial Study must be conducted. An Initial Study is a process of evaluating the potential environmental impacts of a Project on specific resource categories. The findings are summarized in a report and shared with public decision-makers. These resource categories include:
- Agriculture and Forestry Resources
- Air Quality
- Biological Resources
- Cultural Resources
- Geology /Soils
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Hazards & Hazardous Materials
- Hydrology / Water Quality
- Land Use / Planning
- Mineral Resources
- Population / Housing
- Public Services
- Tribal Cultural Resources
- Utilities / Service Systems
- Mandatory Findings of Significance
An Environmental Assessment is the preliminary study of environmental impacts under NEPA. Resource areas within an Environmental Assessment include:
- Land Development
- Community Facilities and Services
- Natural Features
- Other Factors
Each of these categories contains several subcategories for more specific analysis.
An Environmental Assessment is needed anytime a proposed activity receives federal funding, works by a federal agency, or federal agency permit. An Environmental Assessment will then be submitted to decision-makers and the public to determine whether the project has the potential to cause a significant impact on the environment.
An environmental consultant works with the lead agency to conduct various technical studies to determine if the proposed activity has the potential to cause significant environmental impacts. An environmental consultant lessens the burden on public agencies and private developers by managing the completion of Initial Studies, technical studies and drafting official reports based on the findings of the studies.
You may need an environmental consultant if your company wants to initiate a development activity that is subject to CEQA review. Working with an environmental consultant will provide the knowledge and expertise to guide your project through the CEQA process with minimal setbacks.
The first step in any Environmental Assessment is to finalize your project description. A specific and detailed project description is the most important factor contributing to a smooth and efficient CEQA review process. Your consultant will help you draft a project description. After your project description is finalized, the next step would be to work with an environmental consultant to determine potential impact areas and develop a plan to assess those potential impacts.
The timeline for an Environmental Assessment can vary depending on the scope of your project. Simple Exemptions may only take a few months to compile and approve, while larger projects requiring full Environmental Impact Statements (NEPA) or Environmental Impact Reports (CEQA) may take a year or more. Working with an environmental consultant is important because it will ensure that your project will be completed as quickly and as professionally as possible.
At Soar Environmental, our consultations are always at no charge. Once an agreement is finalized, costs vary based on the scope of work necessary for the project. While working with an environmental consultant may seem like a large investment, it often will ensure that your company maintains compliance and avoids potential errors leading to costly mistakes as the project moves forward. Environmental consultants are dedicated to finding the most cost-effective and complete solutions to your company’s needs.