The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)(Pub. Res. Code Section 21000-21177) applies to most public agency decisions to carry out, authorize, or approve projects that may have adverse effects on the environment. CEQA requires that all agencies participate in the mandated CEQA review process in order to inform themselves and the public of the environmental effects of proposed projects, to consider all relevant information in the decision-making process, and to reduce potential harm to the environment when feasible. CEQA court decisions and the CEQA Guidelines (contained at Cal. Code Regs. Section 15000-15387) offer a continually expanding resource for CEQA practitioners.
For example, the California Supreme Court recently issued a CEQA opinion in Save Tara v. City of W. Hollywood (2008) 45 Cal.4th 116. The decision concerned the extent to which governmental agencies may make valid agreements with private groups, but conditioned on subsequent CEQA review. The Court decided: [W]e take the general principle that before conducting CEQA review, agencies must not "take any action" that significantly furthers a project in a manner that forecloses alternatives or mitigation measures that would ordinarily be a part of CEQA review of that public project.... Save Tara, 45 Cal.4th at 138. The Court holding limits a popular development device -- development agreements to secure financing, but conditioned on a subsequent environmental review. Consequently, any multi-step public agency process must be evaluated as to what indicates "approval" of a project for CEQA purposes.
The California Natural Resources Agency is also currently in the process of proposing new regulations under CEQA to analyze and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with Pub. Res. Code Section 21083.05. When implemented, such guidelines will increase the scope of a CEQA analysis to include greenhouse gas effects and each practitioner should be aware of this scope when looking at a proposed project.
The Janssen Law Firm is available to consult with public agencies and private parties concerning all aspects of project development, including CEQA compliance and litigation.