“Major change to one of California’s most important laws could happen literally in the dark of night” — Los Angeles Times
“Proposals to weaken California’s most important environment law... reflect major changes that have not been vetted and are being advanced by special interests in an end-of session power play.” — Assemblymember Jared Huffman
“For four decades [the California Environmental Quality Act] has delivered cleaner air and water, more plentiful fish and wildlife, less traffic congestion and smarter public services. But corporate lobbyists are working behind the scenes to gut this landmark law — and it’s being done with no public hearings and little public input.” — San Jose Mercury News
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is one of California’s most important environmental laws. It was enacted in 1970 and signed by then-Governor Ronald Reagan. For more than 40 years, CEQA has served as an environmental bill of rights for all Californians.
CEQA allows Californians to safeguard the health and well-being of their families and neighborhoods, and protect their communities from environmental toxins and other dangers. The law holds developers and government agencies accountable for the environmental impacts of development projects and gives the public a real voice in analyzing the impacts of projects — from strip malls to power plants — on their communities.
The purpose of the law is to:
CEQA is an important legal tool that has enabled ordinary people to participate in decision-making about how new and expanding developments in their communities can be modified to avoid health hazards. The law’s unique importance and power comes from the fact that the public has access to the same information as the government. Based on this information, the public can challenge findings made in an environmental review and, if necessary, challenge the government’s approval of an environmental review.
The law requires that project applicants prepare an environmental review of their project, identify significant environmental impacts, and mitigate those impacts so they are no longer significant. The governmental agency responsible for permitting the project must review and approve the environmental analysis and ensure that environmental impacts will, in fact, be mitigated. CEQA thereby ensures accountability and requires improvements to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the natural beauty and open spaces that are important to us.
CEQA has empowered Californians to protect California in all its diversity: from safeguarding the urban environment to conserving California’s magnificent coasts, forests, mountains, farmland, and more. One of CEQA’s greatest strengths is that it addresses the full range of environmental impacts, not just those in one issue area.
But since the law passed over 40 years ago, certain interest groups have waged campaigns to undermine CEQA. They argue that the law is used inappropriately to stop development and results in frivolous lawsuits.
These claims are not supported by research. According to a 2005 report on CEQA developed by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) on behalf of the California Resources Agency, there are relatively few CEQA legal challenges: just one lawsuit filed for every 354 developments going through environmental review. Most legal rulings in these cases are decided in favor of the government agency’s decision about the project.
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