California Environmental Quality Act
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) generally requires state and local government agencies to inform decision makers and the public about the potential environmental impacts of proposed projects, and to reduce those environmental impacts to the extent feasible. If a project subject to CEQA will not cause any adverse environmental impacts, a public agency may adopt a brief document known as a Negative Declaration. If the project may cause adverse environmental impacts, the public agency must prepare a more detailed study called an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). An EIR contains in-depth studies of potential impacts, measures to reduce or avoid those impacts, and an analysis of alternatives to the project. A key feature of the CEQA process is the opportunity for the public to review and provide input on both Negative Declarations and EIRs. The laws and rules governing the CEQA process are contained in the CEQA statute (Public Resources Code Section 21000 et seq), the CEQA Guidelines (California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 15000 et seq), published court decisions interpreting CEQA, and locally adopted CEQA procedures. The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is subject to the requirements of CEQA because it carries out and approves various hazardous waste-related projects that have the potential to impact the environment. These projects include, but are not limited to, the following:
As a Lead Agency (the agency with principal responsibility for carrying out or approving a project), DTSC complies with CEQA by conducting a preliminary environmental impact evaluation to determine if a project subject to its approval is statutorily or categorically exempt from CEQA, or if further environmental review in the form of an Initial Study is required. The Initial Study serves to 1) determine whether an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) or a Negative Declaration must be prepared, and/or 2) identify the significant environmental effects that must be analyzed in an EIR. DTSC issues the draft environmental document and supporting data and information at the same time it releases draft project documents to the public and agencies for review and comment. DTSC considers comments received before it makes a final determination on the project.
When DTSC acts as a Responsible Agency (when it has permitting authority or approval power over some aspect of the overall project for which another agency is the Lead Agency for CEQA purposes) it complies with CEQA by reviewing and commenting on environmental documents prepared by the Lead Agency. As a Responsible Agency, DTSC takes into consideration the EIR or Negative Declaration prepared by the Lead Agency and then DTSC reaches its own conclusions on whether and how to approve the aspects of project subject to its approval.
The Office of Planning & Environmental Analysis (OPEA) within DTSC is responsible for providing CEQA guidance and technical support in the form of bulletins, training, and project-specific technical assistance to project managers on the environmental review and public noticing requirements of CEQA. Since the start of the 2010 calendar year, OPEA has provided technical assistance to DTSC project managers in the preparation, review, approval, and public noticing of over 630 CEQA documents for various permitting, cleanup, and regulation projects. Over the same time period, OPEA also processed more than 7,000 outside agency environmental documents submitted to DTSC for its review by other agencies through the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research/State Clearinghouse.