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NEPA and CEQA: Integrating Federal and State Environmental Reviews$0.00
NEPA and CEQA: Integrating Federal and State Environmental ReviewsU.S. Department of the Interior | February 18, 2014...Summary
This handbook provides advisory guidance to Federal, state, and local agencies and others regarding projects that are subject to both the National Environmental...
This handbook provides advisory guidance to Federal, state, and local agencies and others regarding projects that are subject to both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Once President Nixon signed NEPA on January 1, 1970, and California Governor Reagan followed suit signing CEQA into law on September 18 of the same year, these laws expressly required the incorporation of environmental values into governmental decision making. Those statutes require Federal, state, and local agencies to analyze and disclose the potential environmental impacts of their decisions, and, in the case of CEQA, to minimize significant adverse environmental effects to the extent feasible.
NEPA was codified under Title 42 of the United States Code, in section 4331 et seq. (42 U.S.C. § 4331 et seq.). Under NEPA, Congress established the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to ensure that Federal agencies meet their obligations of the Act. CEQ’s Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA (hereinafter CEQ NEPA Regulations) are in Title 40 of Code of Federal Regulations section 1500 et seq. (40 C.F.R. § 1500 et seq.). In California, CEQA was codified under Division 13 of California’s Public Resources Code, in sections 21000 et seq. (Cal. Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.). The Guidelines for Implementation of the California Environmental Quality Act are in Title 14 of California’s Code of Regulations, section 15000 et seq. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 14, § 15000 et seq.; hereafter CEQA Guidelines).
NEPA and CEQA are similar, both in intent and in the review process (the analyses, public engagement, and document preparation) that they dictate. Importantly, both statutes encourage a joint Federal and state review where a project requires both Federal and state approvals. Indeed, in such cases, a joint review process can avoid redundancy, improve efficiency and interagency cooperation, and be easier for applicants and citizens to navigate. Despite the similarities between NEPA and CEQA, there are several differences that require careful coordination between the Federal and state agencies responsible for complying with NEPA and CEQA. Conflict arising from these differences can create unnecessary delay, confusion, and legal vulnerability.
Federal, state and local agencies have cooperated in the environmental review of projects ranging from infrastructure to renewable energy permitting. As the state and Federal governments pursue shared goals, there will be a continued need for an efficient, transparent environmental review process that meets the requirements of both NEPA and CEQA.
Recognizing the importance of implementing NEPA and CEQA efficiently and effectively, the CEQ and the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) developed this handbook to provide advisory guidance on conducting joint NEPA and CEQA review processes. The CEQ oversees Federal agency implementation of NEPA, which includes writing the CEQ NEPA Regulations1 and preparing guidance and handbooks for Federal agencies. OPR plays several roles in the administration of CEQA, including developing the CEQA Guidelines in coordination with the California Natural Resources Agency, providing technical assistance to state and local agencies, and coordinating state level review of CEQA documents.
The purpose of this handbook is to provide practitioners with an overview of the NEPA and CEQA processes, and to provide practical suggestions on developing a single environmental review process that can meet the requirements of both statutes. This handbook contains three main sections. First is a “Question and Answer” section that addresses the key similarities and differences between NEPA and CEQA. This section compares each law’s requirements or common practices, and identifies possible strategies for meeting the requirements of both laws. These strategies are not meant to prescribe methods that agencies must use; rather, this handbook provides suggestions that will help agencies identify and think through potential issues. Indeed, developing a common understanding of the NEPA and CEQA review processes and their differences at the beginning of a joint review process may be among the most important ways to conduct an efficient and effective review process.
Second, this handbook provides a framework for a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between two or more agencies entering a joint NEPA/CEQA review process. MOUs can clarify responsibilities and avoid potential conflicts. The MOU framework in this handbook highlights a number of issues that agencies can consider before embarking on their joint effort. This handbook is not intended to replace or replicate any existing MOUs; rather, it raises topics agencies might consider incorporating into their own MOUs. Much like the Q&A document, a key goal of this framework is to encourage state and Federal agencies to consider and resolve potential challenges common to joint NEPA/CEQA review processes in order to avoid complications late in the review process.
Finally, the third section addresses the California Energy Commission (CEC) licensing process for decisions on thermal power plants 50 megawatts and larger. This licensing process is a certified regulatory program under CEQA and therefore the process and documents prepared by the CEC serve as the functional equivalent of a CEQA review (CEQA Guidelines, § 15251, subd. (j)).
As noted above, this handbook is advisory and does not supplant the administrative regulations set forth in the CEQA Guidelines, or the CEQ NEPA Regulations. Agencies conducting an environmental review must also take into account any additional requirements or time periods established in an individual agency’s administrative regulations or procedures implementing NEPA and CEQA, which could prescribe additional or more stringent requirements than the CEQ NEPA Regulations and the CEQA Guidelines.