Survey of state projects finds CEQA is not a barrier

Senate Environmental Quality Committee 5-year survey finds only 1 percent required an EIR, despite claims by critics

December 7, 2017

Sacramento – Over 90 percent of the thousands of projects done by 47 state agencies between 2011-12 and 2015-16 were exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), strongly suggesting the environmental law is not a barrier to the completion of important projects.  

The survey conducted by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee also found that less than 1 percent of more than 15,700 projects resulted in litigation. The full survey can be found at senv.senate.ca.gov under the publications tab.

“This extensive review of state agencies clearly finds that CEQA is doing what Governor Reagan and the Legislature hoped it would do when they passed it in 1970 – providing transparency, accountability and reducing harmful impacts to our environment as we undertake important projects to enhance our state,” said Senator Bob Wieckowski, chair of the Environmental Quality Committee.  “Whether it is Caltrans, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Parks and Recreation, or regional water quality control boards, projects are being reviewed through an environmental lens and CEQA is not a significant burden.”

CEQA requires state and local agencies to identify the potentially significant environmental impacts of proposed projects, and then to avoid or mitigate those impacts when feasible. Its process engages the public and governmental agencies in civic discourse about the environmental effects of physical development and land use policies affecting communities where the projects are proposed.

The Environmental Quality Committee surveyed 94 state agencies and found that during the five years covered by the survey, 47 agencies served as the lead agencies for projects. It then asked the agencies to report how many projects were exempted from CEQA; subject to a negative declaration or mitigated negative declaration; subject to an environmental impact report or subject to the National Environmental Policy Act; and the number of CEQA lawsuits filed against them.

The committee sent the same survey to the League of California Cities asking for data in which a city was the lead agency on a project subject to CEQA.  Although only 33 cities responded to the survey, the results generally align with the figures from the state agency survey.  More than 91 percent of the projects were categorically exempt from CEQA and less than 0.3 percent of the total projects resulted in CEQA lawsuits. More research is encouraged to fully quantify the impacts at the local level.

“This is an invaluable contribution to the debates over the role CEQA plays in protecting California's environment and the balance between effective environmental review and facilitating important investments in housing, transportation and climate change resilience in the state,” said Eric Biber, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley. “The data in this report will be essential for the ongoing policy and legal research on these issues.”

Senator Wieckowski represents the 10th District, which includes southern Alameda County and northeast Santa Clara County.