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Last Updated: Thursday, December 19, 2013 8:30 AM

Chapter 36 - Environmental Impact Report (EIR)

WHAT DOES THE TOPIC INCLUDE?

This chapter discusses the preparation and processing of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in accordance with CEQA. This chapter also discusses the preparation and processing of documents related to an EIR including, a Notice of Preparation (NOP), a Notice of Completion (NOC), Certification, Findings, Statement of Overriding Considerations (SOC), and a Notice of Determination (NOD). The chapter also includes information on the preparation and processing of a Supplemental EIR, a Subsequent EIR, and an Addendum to an EIR.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT DECISION TREE

LAWS, REGULATIONS AND GUIDANCE - See also Chapter 2 - State Requirements

Policy Memos

DEFINITION AND PURPOSE OF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT (EIR)

The overarching purpose in preparing an Environmental Impact Report is to provide the public and the decision-makers with detailed information about a project’s environmental effects, ways to minimize the project’s significant environmental effects, and reasonable alternatives to the project.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), an EIR must be prepared whenever there is substantial evidence, in light of the whole record, that a project may have a significant effect on the environment. In accordance with California case law, if the Department is presented with a fair argument that a project may have a significant effect on the environment, it shall prepare an EIR even though it may also be presented with other substantial evidence that the project will not have a significant effect.

If a project is subject to CEQA and does not qualify for an exemption (see Chapter 34), the next step in the CEQA process is to determine whether the project may result in a significant effect on the environment. If it is unclear whether the project may have such an effect, then an initial study is conducted to determine the nature and extent of the project’s effects (see Chapter 35). If the results of an initial study reveal that the project may have a significant effect on the environment, then preparation of an EIR is appropriate.

If it is clear that a project will result in a significant effect on the environment and an EIR will be required, the initial study process can be skipped and work can proceed directly on the EIR. In this case, the EIR must still focus on the significant effects of the project and indicate briefly the reasons for determining that other effects would not be significant or potentially significant.

When to Prepare a Mitigated Negative Declaration Rather Than an EIR

When there is substantial evidence to indicate that a project may have a significant effect on the environment, a Mitigated Negative Declaration may be prepared in lieu of an EIR if avoidance or minimization measures are included in the project to a point where clearly no significant effect on the environment would occur (see Chapter 35 for additional details).

Definition and Determination of Significance under CEQA

“Significant effect on the environment” means a substantial, or potentially substantial, adverse change in any of the physical conditions within the area affected by the project, including but not limited to land, air, water, minerals, flora, fauna, ambient noise, and objects of historic or aesthetic significance.

The determination of whether a project may have a significant effect on the environment calls for careful judgment on the part of the Project Development Team, based to the extent possible on the results of field surveys and technical studies. Because the significance of an effect may vary depending on the environmental setting, set rules for determining significance in every case have not been established. Some public agencies have established threshold of significance for CEQA. Because the Department has statewide jurisdiction and the setting for projects varies so extensively across the state, the Department has not and has no intention to develop thresholds of significance for CEQA. The determination of significance under CEQA is left to the internal project development team, with particular deference paid to the expertise of environmental staff and other specialists.

According to the CEQA Guidelines, an economic or social change by itself is not to be considered a significant effect on the environment. However, if a social or economic change is related to a physical change, that social or economic change may be considered in determining whether the physical change is significant. Since nearly all Department projects result in physical change, the consideration of social or economic changes is almost always appropriate in assessing the significance of project effects.

Lastly, the existence of public controversy over the environmental effects of a project will not require preparation of an EIR if there is no substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment.

Mandatory Findings of Significance

In accordance with CEQA, the Department must find that a project may have a significant effect on the environment and thereby require an EIR to be prepared for the project where any of the following conditions occur:

  1. The project has the potential to substantially degrade the quality of the environment, substantially reduce the habitat of a fish and wildlife species, cause a fish or wildlife population to drop below self-sustaining levels, threaten to eliminate a plant or animal community, substantially reduce the number or restrict the range of an endangered, rare or threatened species, or eliminate important examples of the major periods of California history or prehistory.
  2. The project has the potential to achieve short-term environmental goals to the disadvantage of long-term environmental goals.
  3. The project has possible environmental effects which are individually limited but cumulatively considerable. "Cumulatively considerable" means that the incremental effects of an individual project are considerable when viewed in connection with the effects of past projects, the effects of other current projects, and the effects of probable future projects.
  4. The environmental effects of a project will cause substantial adverse effects on human beings, either directly or indirectly.

NOTICE OF PREPARATION (NOP)

The Notice of Preparation (NOP) is the first step in the EIR process. The purpose of the NOP is to obtain early comments on the proposed project, alternatives, and potential environmental impacts.

Under CEQA, once the decision is made to prepare an EIR, a Notice of Preparation must be sent out to responsible agencies, to every federal agency involved in approving or funding the project and to each trustee agency responsible for natural resources affected by the project.

Types of Agencies Under CEQA

A Lead Agency is the public agency that has the principal responsibility for carrying out or approving a project. The Department is the lead agency for its own projects. The Department may also be lead agency for private projects that require Department approval, for example, a private telecommunications company proposing to install equipment with the Department’s right-of-way.

A responsible agency is any public agency other than the Department that has discretionary approval power over the project. A trustee agency means a state agency having jurisdiction by law over natural resources affected by a project that are held in trust for the people of the State of California. Trustee agencies include:

  1. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife with regard to the fish and wildlife of the state, to designated rare or endangered native plants, and to game refuges, ecological reserves, and other areas administered by the department;
  2. The State Lands Commission with regard to state owned "sovereign" lands such as the beds of navigable waters and state school lands;
  3. The State Department of Parks and Recreation with regard to units of the State Park System;
  4. The University of California with regard to sites within the Natural Land and Water Reserves System.

Common examples of responsible agencies include: the Regional Water Quality Control Board for its Section 401 Water Quality Certification or Waiver, the Department of Fish and Wildlife for its Lake or Streambed Alteration Agreement, and the California Transportation Commission.

The Department can also be a responsible agency for non-Department projects that impact the Department’s facilities, for example, where a city will need to obtain an encroachment permit for conducting work within the Department’s right-of-way.

Responsible agencies must actively participate in the lead agency’s CEQA process and consider the lead agency’s environmental document prior to acting upon or approving the project. The responsible agency must certify that it reviewed and considered the information contained in the lead agency’s CEQA document. The responsible agency must also prepare and issue its own findings regarding the project.

Generally, a responsible agency must accept the lead agency’s environmental document as legally adequate. There are very narrow exceptions where the responsible agency may reject the lead agency’s environmental document and step in to take the lead agency role; however, they are extreme cases such as when the lead agency has failed to consult with responsible agencies as required by CEQA (See CEQA Guidelines Section 15052 Exit Caltrans Icon). Therefore, responsible agencies must participate early and actively in the lead agency’s CEQA process to ensure its concerns are met.

Preparing an NOP

The Notice of Preparation must provide the responsible agencies with sufficient information describing the project and the potential environmental effects to enable the responsible agencies to make a meaningful response. At a minimum, the NOP must include:

  1. Description of the project,
  2. Location of the project indicated either on an attached map (preferably a copy of a U.S.G.S. 15' or 7-1/2' topographical map identified by quadrangle name, or by a street address in an urbanized area). The mapping should show the site in a context broad enough to indicate the area to be affected by the project, including rivers, airports, schools, railways, and highways, and
  3. Probable environmental effects of the project.

The Initial Study, if one has been done, should be included to show the probable environmental effects of the project.

 

Processing an NOP

As discussed above, the NOP must be sent out to responsible agencies, to every federal agency involved in approving or funding the project and to each trustee agency responsible for natural resources affected by the project. The NOP should also be sent to each city or county in which the project is located or bound and to community groups and other interested parties.

Determining Agency Involvement

To aid in determining which state and local agency permits and other approvals may be required for a specific project, the following questions should be answered and Figures 1, 2, 3 and 4 in Chapter 13, Article 2 of the Project Development Procedures Manual should be consulted.

  • Where is the project located?
  • What resources are affected by the project?
  • What specific activities does the project involve?

Transmitting the NOP to External Agencies and the State Clearinghouse

The Notice of Preparation (NOP) must be sent directly to the State Clearinghouse (Office of Planning and Research) and to all responsible and trustee agencies. To send copies of the NOP, use either certified mail or any other method of transmittal that provides a record that the notice was received. The distribution list for the NOP should be attached to the State Clearinghouse’s copy of the NOP. Filing the NOP and distribution list with State Clearinghouse helps ensure that no responsible or trustee state agencies have been overlooked.

A completed Notice of Completion (NOC) should also be submitted with the NOP. The NOC contains a checklist of reviewing state agencies, which can be used as the distribution list of responsible and trustee agencies discussed above.

Receipt of the NOP by the State Clearinghouse will be acknowledged by a letter to the Department, noting the State Clearinghouse number that is to be used for all subsequent environmental documents for that project. A state agency distribution list will be sent with the acknowledgement letter noting any agencies to which the State Clearinghouse has forwarded a copy of the NOP.

Once the agencies receive the NOP a 30-calendar-day review period begins.

For informational purposes, a copy of the NOP should also be sent to the areawide clearinghouses (usually the council of governments or metropolitan planning organization) to distribute to regional and local agencies. Areawide clearinghouse procedures may vary with each region. Contact the District Intergovernmental Review (IGR) Coordinator for the operating procedures of the applicable local clearinghouse.

California Transportation Commission (CTC) Submittal Process

For projects requiring action by the California Transportation Commission (CTC) - i.e., approval of funds and/or new public road connection and/or route adoption - a submittal package must be sent to the Division of Environmental Analysis for forwarding to the CTC. Click here for the CTC submittal instructions.

Receiving Comments on the NOP

Within 30 days after receiving the NOP, each responsible agency shall provide the Department with specific detail about the scope and content of environmental information to be included in the draft EIR related to the responsible agency's area of statutory responsibility.

If a responsible agency fails by the end of the 30-day period to provide the Department with either a response to the notice or a well-justified request for additional time, the Department may presume that the responsible agency has no response to make.

In order to expedite the determination of the scope and content of the environmental information to be covered in an EIR, the Department, a responsible agency, a trustee agency, or a project applicant may request one or more meetings between representatives of the agencies. Such meetings shall be convened by the Department as soon as possible, but no later than 30 days, after the meetings were requested.

All comments received on the NOP must be kept in the project file and be addressed in the Draft EIR.

Scoping and Initial Meetings

Not only is the NOP the first step in the CEQA EIR process, it is often the first step in the agency and public involvement process as well. The Project Development Procedures Manual (PDPM) directs the Project Development Team to contact local, regional, State, and federal agencies and interested persons with even a minor stake in a project as early as possible. By working together from the earliest stages, it is possible to reduce the chance of conflict at critical times. This early consultation may be called scoping. Scoping has been found to be an effective way to bring together and resolve the concerns of affected federal, state, and local agencies, the proponent of the action, and other interested persons including those who might not be in accord with the action on environmental grounds. Preliminary informal scoping may have already been undertaken during the preparation of the Preliminary Environmental Analysis Report (see Chapter 5). This preliminary informal scoping may serve as the foundation for the formal scoping discussed in this section and Chapter 6. Scoping will be necessary when preparing an EIR/EIS jointly with a federal agency (see Chapters 37 and 38). Scoping has been helpful to agencies in identifying the range of actions, alternatives, mitigation measures, and significant effects to be analyzed in depth in an EIR and in eliminating from detailed study issues found not to be important.

Public scoping meeting should be held for projects requiring preparation of an EIR. If a project is of statewide, regional, or areawide significance , the Department must provide notice of and hold at least one scoping meeting. Notices must be sent to the following:

  1. Any county or city that borders on a county or city within which the project is located, unless otherwise designated annually by agreement between the lead agency and the county or city.
  2. Any responsible agency.
  3. Any public agency that has jurisdiction by law with respect to the project.
  4. Any organization or individual who has filed a written request for the notice.
  5. U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) if project is within the boundaries of a low-level flight path, military impact zone, or special use airport if DOD has requested such notice. Additional information Exit Caltrans Icon

In addition to the requirements of CEQA, the Project Development Procedures Manual specifies that for certain projects, primarily those requiring new right-of-way, route adoptions, or access control (see PDPM Chapter 22, Article 5 for further details), an initial meeting must be held. The initial meeting is held with affected local agencies or their technical and planning staffs, along with other interested or affected groups. The initial meeting provides an early exchange of information and ideas, as well as an opportunity to discuss the proposed project timetable. Other features to be discussed include preliminary data or issues bearing on the decision to proceed, focusing particularly on the need for the project.

Because the initial meeting and scoping meeting share the same purpose of gaining early comment and are held with the same affected local agencies and other interested or affected groups, the initial meeting and scoping meeting are often combined. The meeting is open to the general public and it should be well publicized.

Publicity about the initial meeting may include news releases, paid advertisements, or both. Paid advertisements will follow the general format and content instructions described in Appendix HH of the PDPM on the Division of Design website. All publicity should be handled by the District's Public Information Office.

Individual invitations are sent to legislators, city council members and county supervisors, and to their technical and planning staff department heads and to agencies and groups (see Appendix HH of the PDPM for sample notices and letters).

At the conclusion of the meeting, Design will prepare a Record of Public Meeting, which is a summary of the meeting noting substantial items discussed and any agreements reached. A list of those attending by agency, organization, group and number of individuals and those who submitted written material should be attached to the Record of Public Meeting. The Record of Public Meeting becomes part of the administrative record for the project.

PREPARING A DRAFT EIR

A Draft EIR is a detailed analysis of a proposed project’s potentially significant effect on the human environment. Guidelines for the preparation of a Draft EIR are found in the CEQA Guidelines at Sections 15080 et seq. The Guidelines do not specify a format for an EIR; however, certain contents are specified by CEQA guidelines and a discussion of these follows.

Required Content

Table of Contents or Index

The EIR must contain a table of contents or an index to assist readers in finding the analysis of different subjects and issues. A document may have both.

Summary

The EIR must contain a brief summary of the proposed project and its consequences; the summary should normally not exceed 15 pages. The language of the summary should be as clear and simple as possible.

The summary must identify:

  1. Each significant effect with proposed mitigation measures and alternatives that would reduce or avoid that effect;
  2. Areas of controversy including issues raised by agencies and the public; and
  3. Issues to be resolved including the choice among alternatives and whether or how to mitigate the significant effects.

Description of the Proposed Project

The proposed project must be described in a way that will be meaningful to the public, to the other reviewing agencies, and to the decision-makers. In accordance with the CEQA Guidelines, the description must include:

  1. Precise location and boundaries of proposed project on a detailed map, preferably topographic,
  2. Project location must also appear on a regional map,
  3. Statement of Objectives and Purpose (Note: This is the same as the purpose and need statement under NEPA.)
  4. Statement of the project’s technical, economic, and environmental characteristics given the current design,
  5. Statement of the intended uses of the EIR, including a list of responsible agencies that will use the document to support their decisions, a list of permits and approvals needed to implement the project and a list of related environmental reviews and consultations (local, state and federal).

As a practical matter, the project description must be detailed enough to allow an accurate assessment of the project alternatives, environmental effects and mitigation measures. It should include a discussion of all actions necessary to construct the proposed project. Therefore, consideration must be given to the issues such as access, staging, utility relocations and fill and borrow sites.

Alternatives to the Proposed Project

One of the primary issues to consider when preparing an EIR is the nature and number of project alternatives to be included in the environmental document and technical studies. The CEQA statutes, guidelines, and court cases do not give concrete rules for determining the nature and scope of alternatives. Rather, the CEQA Guidelines state that an EIR must describe a range of reasonable alternatives to the project, or to the location of the project, which would feasibly attain most of the basic objectives of the project but would avoid or substantially lessen any of the significant effects of the project. The courts have stated that an EIR need not consider every conceivable alternative to a project, but rather the determination of the range of alternatives should be governed by the rule of reason. For information on alternative development for an EIR, please see the Alternatives Analysis Frequently Asked Questions.

Rule of Reason

The range of alternatives required in an EIR is governed by a "rule of reason" that requires the EIR to set forth only those alternatives necessary to permit a reasoned choice. The alternatives must be limited to ones that would avoid or substantially lessen any of the significant effects of the project. Of those alternatives, the EIR need examine in detail only the ones that could feasibly attain most of the basic objectives of the project. The range of feasible alternatives must be selected and discussed in a manner to foster meaningful public participation and informed decision-making.

Narrowing the Range of Alternatives: Feasibility and Other Concerns

To the extent that early planning documents have already analyzed and discussed alternatives, the analysis and discussion should be referenced or summarized in the EIR. As stated above, an EIR need not consider every alternative and need not include detailed discussions of all alternatives. The following factors may be used to narrow the scope of alternatives in an EIR:

  1. Feasibility. An alternative may be considered infeasible and withdrawn from further discussion if :
    • The alternative site/alignment is not suitable;
    • The alternative is not economically viable;
    • The alternative is inconsistent with general plans, other plans or regulatory limitations;
    • The alternative would cross jurisdictional boundaries (projects with a regionally significant impact should consider the regional context); or
    • The alternative site cannot be reasonably acquired, controlled or otherwise accessed.
  2. Project Objectives. The alternative fails to meet most of the basic project objectives.
  3. Significant Effects. The alternative does not avoid significant environmental impacts.
  4. Remote and Speculative. An alternative whose effect cannot be reasonably ascertained and whose implementation is remote and speculative does not need to be included in the EIR.

If it is determined that no feasible alternative locations exist, the reasons for this conclusion should be disclosed in the EIR.

Discussion of Alternatives in the EIR

The EIR should briefly describe the rationale for selecting the alternatives to be discussed and should also identify any alternatives that were considered but rejected as infeasible during the scoping process. There should be enough information in the EIR to allow the reader to understand the reasons for choosing the alternatives to be discussed in detail in the EIR. Additional information explaining the choice of alternatives may be included in the administrative record.

The EIR must then evaluate the comparative merits of the alternatives, including the “no project” alterative as discussed below. The EIR must include sufficient information about each alternative to allow meaningful evaluation, analysis, and comparison with the proposed project. A matrix displaying the major characteristics and significant environmental effects of each alternative may be used to summarize the comparison. If an alternative would cause one or more significant effects in addition to those that would be caused by the proposed project, the significant effects of the alternative must be discussed, but in less detail than the significant effects of the proposed project.

The EIR must identify the environmentally superior alternative. If the environmentally superior alternative is the "no project" alternative, the EIR must also identify an environmentally superior alternative among the other alternatives.

"No Project" Alternative

The EIR must include a discussion of the “no project” alternative and its impact. The discussion of the “no project” alternative allows the public and the decision-makers to assess the effects of approving the project versus the effects of not approving the project.

The "no project" analysis must discuss the existing conditions at the time the notice of preparation (NOP) is published as well as what would be reasonably expected to occur in the foreseeable future if the project were not approved. In other words, if disapproval of the proposed project would result in predictable actions by others, such as the proposal of some other project, this "no project" consequence should be discussed. For example, if a new highway is the proposed project and the local jurisdiction has a plan in place to build a local arterial in the event the new highway is not built, the local jurisdiction’s arterial would be included in the “no project” alternative.

In certain instances, the no project alternative means "no build" wherein the existing environmental setting is maintained. However, where failure to proceed with the project will not result in preservation of existing environmental conditions, the analysis should identify the practical result of the project's non-approval and not create and analyze a set of artificial assumptions that would be required to preserve the existing physical environment.

Environmental Setting

The EIR must include a description of the physical environmental conditions in the vicinity of the project as they exist at the time the notice of preparation is published. It should be given from both a local and regional perspective. The environmental setting will normally set the baseline physical conditions by which a determination can be made about an impact and its significance. The description of the environmental setting must be no longer than is necessary to an understanding of the significant effects of the proposed project and its alternatives.

Special emphasis should be placed on environmental resources that are rare or unique to that region and would be affected by the project. The EIR must demonstrate that the significant environmental impacts of the proposed project were adequately investigated and discussed and it must permit the significant effects of the project to be considered in the full environmental context.

The EIR must discuss any inconsistencies between the proposed project and applicable general plans and regional plans. Such plans may be the applicable air quality attainment or maintenance plan or State Implementation Plan, regional transportation plans, regional housing allocation plans, habitat conservation plans, natural community conservation plans, and regional land use plans for the protection of the Coastal Zone, Lake Tahoe Basin, San Francisco Bay, and Santa Monica Mountains.

Environmental Impacts

The format for discussing environmental impacts is not specified in the regulations. Generally, the Department has used a resource-by-resource discussion to assess the environmental effects in environmental documents. The assessment of environmental effects should include a discussion of direct and indirect impacts, as well as short-term (temporary) and long-term (permanent) impacts.

The CEQA Guidelines do make clear that the focus of the EIR should be on the significant effects of the proposed project. Each of the following must be discussed in the EIR, preferably in separate paragraphs or sections:

  1. Significant environmental effects of the proposed project
  2. Significant environmental effects which cannot be avoided with the proposed project
  3. Significant irreversible environmental changes which would be involved in implementing the proposed project
  4. Growth inducing impacts of the proposed project, and
  5. Mitigation measures proposed to minimize significant environmental effects.
Significant Environmental Effects of the Proposed Project

An EIR must identify and focus on the significant environmental effects of the proposed project. In assessing the impact of a proposed project on the environment, examination should be limited to changes in the existing physical conditions in the affected area as they exist at the time the notice of preparation is published. Direct and indirect significant effects of the project on the environment must be clearly identified and described, giving due consideration to both the short-term and long-term effects. The discussion should include relevant specifics of the area; the resources involved; physical changes, alterations to ecological systems and changes induced in population distribution, population concentration, the human use of the land (including commercial and residential development), health and safety problems caused by the physical changes; and other aspects of the resource base such as water, historical resources, scenic quality, and public services.

Significant Environmental Effects Which Cannot be Avoided

Describe any significant impacts, including those that can be mitigated but not reduced to a level of insignificance. Where there are impacts that cannot be alleviated without imposing an alternative design, their implications and the reasons why the project is being proposed, notwithstanding their effect, should be described.

Significant Irreversible Environmental Changes

Uses of nonrenewable resources during the initial and continued phases of the project may be irreversible since a large commitment of such resources makes removal or nonuse of the facility thereafter unlikely. Primary impacts and, particularly, secondary impacts (such as highway improvement which provides access to a previously inaccessible area) generally commit future generations to similar land uses. Also irreversible damage can result from environmental accidents associated with the project. Whenever possible, a plan for dealing with those potential accidents, such as hazardous waste spills, should also be discussed. Irretrievable commitments of resources should be evaluated to assure that such current consumption is justified.

Growth-Inducing Impact

Discuss the ways in which the proposed project could foster economic or population growth, or the construction of additional housing, either directly or indirectly, in the surrounding environment. Included in this are projects that would remove obstacles to population growth (a major expansion of a waste water treatment plant might, for example, allow for more construction in service areas). Increases in the population may tax existing community service facilities, requiring construction of new facilities that could cause significant environmental effects. Also discuss the characteristic of some projects that may encourage and facilitate other activities that could significantly affect the environment, either individually or cumulatively. It must not be assumed that growth in any area is necessarily beneficial, detrimental, or of little significance to the environment. For additional information regarding growth-inducing impacts, please see Volume 4 of the Environmental Handbook.

Mitigation Measures

The discussion of mitigation measures in the EIR must identify mitigation measures for each significant environmental effect identified in the EIR. Mitigation measures are not required for effects that are not found to be significant. However, mitigation measures should be considered for all impacts on a case-by-case basis.

If the implementation of a certain mitigation measure would cause a significant effect in addition to the significant effects of the proposed project, the discussion of that mitigation measure must include a discussion of its significant effect. The discussion of a mitigation measure’s significant effect does not, however, have to be as detailed as a project’s significant effect.

Where several measures are available to mitigate an impact, each should be discussed and the basis for selecting a particular measure should be identified. Formulation of mitigation measures should not be deferred until some future time.

Mitigation measures must be consistent with all applicable constitutional requirements, including the following:

  1. There must be an essential nexus (i.e. connection) between impact and the mitigation measure and it must serve a legitimate governmental interest; and
  2. The mitigation measure must be "roughly proportional" to the impacts of the project.
Effects Not Significant

If any potentially significant effects were found to be not significant, then the EIR must contain a brief statement indicating the reasons they were deemed not significant. An attached copy of an Initial Study, if one was prepared, may contain such a statement.

Cumulative Effects

A cumulative impact consists of an impact that is created as a result of the combination of the proposed project and other projects causing related impacts. An EIR should not discuss impacts that do not result in part from the project evaluated in the EIR.

An EIR must discuss the cumulative impacts of a project when the project's incremental effect is cumulatively considerable. "Cumulatively considerable" means that the incremental effects of an individual project are considerable when viewed in connection with the effects of past projects, the effects of other current projects, and the effects of probable future projects. When examining a project with an incremental effect that is not "cumulatively considerable," it is not necessary to consider that effect significant, but the document must briefly describe its basis for concluding that the incremental effect is not cumulatively considerable.

A project's contribution is less than cumulatively considerable if the project is required to implement or fund its fair share of a mitigation measure or measures designed to alleviate the cumulative impact. For example, a local developer’s interchange improvements designed to alleviate cumulative traffic impacts would not be “cumulatively considerable.” The document must identify facts and analysis supporting its conclusion that the contribution will be rendered less than cumulatively considerable.

When the combined cumulative impact associated with the project's incremental effect and the effects of other projects is not significant, the EIR must briefly indicate why the cumulative impact is not significant and is not discussed in further detail in the EIR. The document must identify facts and analysis supporting the conclusion that the cumulative impact is less than significant.

The discussion of cumulative impacts must reflect the severity of the impacts and their likelihood of occurrence, but the discussion need not provide as great detail as is provided for the effects attributable to the project alone. The discussion should be guided by standards of practicality and reasonableness, and should focus on the cumulative impact to which the identified other projects contribute. When discussing significant cumulative impacts, either of the following two approaches can be used.

List Approach: Include in the cumulative impact analysis a list of past, present, and probable future projects producing related or cumulative impacts, including, if necessary, those projects outside the control of the agency.

Factors to consider when determining whether to include a related project should include the nature of each environmental resource being examined, the location of the project and its type. This means that each resource type may have a different list of projects. Location may be important, for example, when water quality impacts are at issue since projects outside the watershed would probably not contribute to a cumulative effect. Project type may be important, for example, when the impact is specialized, such as a particular air pollutant or mode of traffic.

Under the list approach, the cumulative impact discussion must include:

  1. A definition of the geographic scope of the area affected by the cumulative effect and a reasonable explanation for the geographic limitation used.
  2. A summary of the expected environmental effects to be produced by those projects with specific reference to additional information stating where that information is available; and
  3. A reasonable analysis of the cumulative impacts of the relevant projects. An EIR must examine reasonable, feasible options for mitigating or avoiding the project's contribution to any significant cumulative effects.

Projection Approach: Include a summary of projections, such as land use and population projections, contained in an adopted general plan or related planning document, or in a prior environmental document which has been adopted or certified, which described or evaluated regional or areawide conditions contributing to the cumulative impact. Any such planning document must be referenced and made available to the public at a location specified by the lead agency.

Previously approved land use documents such as general plans, specific plans, and local coastal plans may be used in cumulative impact analysis. A pertinent discussion of cumulative impacts contained in one or more previously certified EIRs may be incorporated by reference pursuant to the provisions for tiering and program EIRs. No further cumulative impacts analysis is required when a project is consistent with a general, specific, master or comparable programmatic plan where the lead agency determines that the regional or areawide cumulative impacts of the proposed project have already been adequately addressed in a certified EIR for that plan.

If a cumulative impact was adequately addressed in a prior EIR for a community plan, zoning action, or general plan, and the project is consistent with that plan or action, then an EIR for such a project should not further analyze that cumulative impact, as provided in Section 15183(j).

Economic and Social Effects

Economic or social effects of a project may be used to determine the significance of physical changes caused by the project. Although primarily directed at physical changes, CEQA regulations require that socioeconomic consequences of the physical change be analyzed. This means evaluating the impacts on an existing community, on religious practices, and on business activity brought on by the physical changes directly related to the project. For additional information regarding social and economic effects, please see Volume 4 of the Environmental Handbook.

Comments and Coordination

List the agencies, organizations, and individuals consulted in the preparation of the EIR. If prepared by contract or other authorization, enter the persons, firm, or agency preparing the draft EIR.

PROCESSING A DRAFT EIR

District and Headquarters Review

The formal process of technical specialist review, peer review, technical editor review and supervisor review must be followed for CEQA-only EIRs. However, a review by the Division of Environmental Analysis Environmental Coordinator is not required but encouraged.

State Clearinghouse Submittal

Following approval of the document by the District Director, the Draft EIR is ready for circulation. As part of the circulation process, at least 15 copies of the Draft EIR must be submitted to State Clearinghouse together with one copy of the Notice of Completion (NOC). If more than 15 agencies are checked on the reviewing agencies list on the NOC, then additional copies of the Draft EIR must be included for those agencies. In lieu of sending 15 hard copies of the Draft EIR, the Department may send 15 copies of the executive summary along with 15 CDs of the Draft EIR. For additional information, access the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, State Clearinghouse website.Exit Caltrans Icon

When a Draft EIR is submitted to State Clearinghouse for distribution, the State Clearinghouse number assigned to the Notice of Preparation should be referenced on the Notice of Completion (NOC) and the EIR title page.

The Draft EIR is reviewed briefly by the State Clearinghouse to determine its scope and to identify the state agencies that should review it. The State Clearinghouse then assigns review dates, attaches a distribution list to the NOC form, and distributes the documents to selected agencies. Reviewing agencies are selected for their expertise in a particular subject matter or geographical areas, or their responsibility for particular types of projects.

The state review period typically starts when the State Clearinghouse circulates the document to the other state agencies. Typically, this occurs on the same day the document is submitted if (a) the document is received by noon, and (b) the submittal is complete. Documents received in the afternoon typically are distributed by the next working day. The standard review period for a Draft EIR submitted to State Clearinghouse is 45 calendar days. Day 1 of the review period is the date the document is distributed by State Clearinghouse. The review period ends at 5 p.m. on the 45th calendar day thereafter. On the day following the close of the review period (i.e., the 46th day), the State Clearinghouse will prepare and mail a closing letter to the Department. Attached to the closing letter will be copies of any comments received from reviewing state agencies.

The NOC and at least 15 copies of the Draft EIR are sent to:

State Clearinghouse
P.O. Box 3044
Sacramento, CA 95812-3044

For additonal information, please see The State Clearinghouse Handbook (June 2012) Exit Caltrans Icon.

Electronic Submittal

Public Resources Code 21082.1(c)(4) requires that a state lead agency, such as the Department, submit an electronic format of the EIR as well as hard copies of the document. Acceptable formats include word files and pdf files and should be submitted on a CD along with the hard copies of the document and the NOC. For additional information, access the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, State Clearinghouse website. Exit Caltrans Icon

California Transportation Commission (CTC) submittal process

For projects requiring action by the California Transportation Commission (CTC) - i.e., approval of funds and/or new public road connection and/or route adoption - a submittal package must be sent to the Division of Environmental Analysis for forwarding to the CTC. Click here for the CTC submittal instructions.

Circulation, Notice of Availability and Public Hearing

When the Draft EIR has been approved for circulation, consideration needs to be given to the interplay between public circulation of the Draft EIR, the publishing of a Notice of Availability of the Draft EIR and the holding of a public hearing.

Circulation of the Draft EIR

Before the Draft EIR can be circulated, the Draft Project Report (or equivalent design report) must be approved. This is to ensure that the project concept in the Draft EIR matches the project concept in the draft design report.

The Draft EIR must be circulated with a request for comments to the following:

  1. Responsible agencies,
  2. Trustee agencies with resources affected by the project,
  3. Any other state, federal, and local agencies which have jurisdiction by law with respect to the project or which exercise authority over resources which may be affected by the project,
  4. Any city or county that borders on a city or county within which the project is located,
  5. For a project of statewide, regional, or areawide significance, the transportation planning agencies and public agencies which have transportation facilities within their jurisdictions which could be affected by the project. "Transportation facilities" includes: major local arterials and public transit within five miles of the project site, and freeways, highways and rail transit service within 10 miles of the project site,
  6. For a state lead agency when the EIR is being prepared for a highway or freeway project, the State Air Resources Board for comments related to the air pollution impact of the potential vehicular use of the highway or freeway and if a non-attainment area, the local air quality management district for a determination of conformity with the air quality management plan.

The Department must use the State Clearinghouse to distribute the draft EIR to state agencies for review and should use areawide clearinghouses (usually the council of governments or metropolitan planning organization) to distribute the documents to regional and local agencies. Areawide clearinghouse procedures may vary with each region. Contact the District Intergovernmental Review (IGR) Coordinator for the operating procedures of the applicable local clearinghouse.

As a good planning practice, the Draft EIR should also be circulated to:

  1. Any person who has special expertise with respect to any environmental impact involved,
  2. Any member of the public who has filed a written request for notice with the lead agency or the clerk of the governing body.
  3. Any person identified to be concerned with the environmental effects of the project.

The Draft EIR should also be sent to local, state and federal elected officials, interested environmental organizations, transit agency, neighborhood groups, community non-profit agencies and to the local chamber of commerce.

To make copies of the EIR available to the public, copies of the draft EIR should be provided to public library systems serving the area involved. Copies must also be available in the District/Region office.

Notice of Availability of Draft EIR

The Department must provide a public notice of the availability (NOA) of a draft EIR at the same time it sends the notice of completion and Draft EIR to the State Clearinghouse. Detailed information regarding the preparation and publishing of the Notice of Availability is contained in Chapter 11, Article 2 and Appendix HH of the Project Development Procedures Manual ( PDPM) on the Division of Design website. Notice of the availability of a Draft EIR must be mailed to the last known name and address of all organizations and individuals who have previously requested such notice in writing, as well as to all Responsible and Trustee agencies. The NOA must be sent to the County Clerk for all involved counties. The County Clerk must post the notice within 24 hours of receipt and keep it posted for 30 days. In addition, notice and must also be given by at least one of the following procedures:

  1. Publication at least one time in a newspaper of general circulation in the area affected by the proposed project. If more than one area is affected, the notice shall be published in the newspaper of largest circulation from among the newspapers of general circulation in those areas.
  2. Posting of notice on and off the site in the area where the project is to be located.
  3. Direct mailing to the owners and occupants of property contiguous to the parcel or parcels on which the project is located. Owners of such property must be identified as shown on the latest equalized assessment roll.

The notice of availability must contain the following:

  1. A brief description of the proposed project and its location,
  2. The starting and ending dates for the Draft EIR review period (Note: Must be at least 45 calendar days),
  3. The date, time, and place of any scheduled public meetings or hearings to be held by the lead agency on the proposed project when known at the time of notice,
  4. A list of the significant environmental effects anticipated as a result of the project, to the extent which such effects are known at the time of the notice,
  5. The address where copies of the EIR and all documents referenced in the EIR will be available for public review. This location must be readily accessible to the public during normal working hours.
  6. A description of how the EIR shall be provided in electronic format. (Added by AB 209, Statutes of 2011, which expanded Public Resources Code Section 21092(b)(1) to include this requirement.)
  7. The presence of the site on any of the lists of sites enumerated in the Cortese List (Section 65962.5 of the Government Code) including, but not limited to, lists of hazardous waste facilities, land designated as hazardous waste property, hazardous waste disposal sites and others, and the information in the Hazardous Waste and Substances Statement.

Public Hearing or Opportunity for a Public Hearing

Public hearings are encouraged, but not required as an element of the CEQA process. However, the Project Development Procedures Manual (PDPM) requires a public hearing for any projects that:

  1. Require significant right of way,
  2. Require substantial changes to the layout, or to the function of connecting roadways or facility being improved,
  3. Have a significant adverse impact on abutting real property, or
  4. Have a significant environmental, economic, social, or other effect.

A "Notice of Opportunity" for a public hearing may be used to satisfy the requirement for a hearing if the project is non-controversial and a hearing request is unlikely. This can be determined by analysis of comments received from the public or local agencies or through prior contacts and information meetings.

Chapter 11, Article 7 of the PDPM includes a discussion of how to plan, prepare and conduct a public hearing.

Notice of the public hearing must be published in English in a newspaper having a general circulation in the vicinity of the proposed project, as well as in any foreign language and community newspapers with a substantial circulation in the area. Each notice must be published in a prominent location in the newspaper other than in the legal notices section and be published twice before the public hearing. Chapter 11, Article 2 and Appendix HH of the Project Development Procedures Manual (PDPM) on the Division of Design website provide detailed information on the format and publication of public notices.

Combined Notice of Availability of Draft EIR and Notice of Public Hearing or Opportunity for a Public Hearing

In practice, the Notice of Availability of the Draft EIR and Notice of Public Hearing or Notice of Opportunity for Public Hearing are often combined into one notice. This avoids duplication of effort and expense.

Chapter 11, Article 2 and Appendix HH of the Project Development Procedures Manual (PDPM) on the Division of Design website provide detailed information on the format and publication of these notices.

CONSIDERATIONS AFTER THE PUBLIC REVIEW PERIOD CLOSES

Acknowledging Comments

While not required, it is good practice to send a letter to those who commented on the Draft EIR acknowledging receipt of their comments. The official response to their comment, however, will not come until circulation of the Final EIR.

Recirculation of Draft EIR

An Draft EIR must be recirculated when significant new information is added to the EIR after public notice is given of the availability of the Draft EIR for public review but before Final EIR is certified. “Information”; can include changes in the project or environmental setting as well as additional data or other information. New information added to an EIR is not "significant" unless the EIR is changed in a way that deprives the public of a meaningful opportunity to comment upon a substantial adverse environmental effect of the project or a feasible way to mitigate or avoid such an effect (including a feasible project alternative) that the Department has declined to implement. "Significant new information" requiring recirculation include:

  1. A new significant environmental impact would result from the project or from a new mitigation measure proposed to be implemented.
  2. A substantial increase in the severity of an environmental impact would result unless mitigation measures are adopted that reduce the impact to a level of insignificance.
  3. A feasible project alternative or mitigation measure considerably different from others previously analyzed would clearly lessen the environmental impacts of the project, but the Department declines to adopt it.
  4. The draft EIR was so fundamentally and basically inadequate and conclusory in nature that meaningful public review and comment were precluded.

Recirculation is not required where the new information added to the EIR merely clarifies or amplifies or makes insignificant modifications in an adequate EIR.

If the revision is limited to a few chapters or portions of the EIR, the Department need only recirculate the chapters or portions that have been modified.

Recirculation of an EIR requires the same notice and consultation as the previous Draft EIR.

A decision not to recirculate an EIR must be supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record.

Recirculating an EIR results in receiving more than one set of comments from reviewers. Following are two ways to identify the set of comments to which to respond. This dual approach avoids confusion over whether it is necessary to respond to comments that are duplicates or which are no longer pertinent due to revisions to the EIR. In any case, responses to pertinent comments on significant environmental issues must be provided.

  1. When the EIR is substantially revised and the entire EIR is recirculated, the Department may require that reviewers submit new comments and it need not respond to those comments received during the earlier circulation period. The Department must advise reviewers, either within the text of the revised EIR or by an attachment to the revised EIR, that although part of the administrative record, the previous comments do not require a written response in the final EIR, and that new comments must be submitted for the revised EIR. The Department need only respond to those comments submitted in response to the recirculated revised EIR. The Department must send directly to every agency, person, or organization that commented on the prior draft EIR a notice of the recirculation specifying that new comments must be submitted.
  2. When the EIR is revised only in part and the Department is recirculating only the revised chapters or portions of the EIR, the Department may request that reviewers limit their comments to the revised chapters or portions. The Department need only respond to (i) comments received during the initial circulation period that relate to chapters or portions of the document that were not revised and recirculated, and (ii) comments received during the recirculation period that relate to the chapters or portions of the earlier EIR that were revised and recirculated. The Department's request that reviewers limit the scope of their comments must be included either within the text of the revised EIR or by an attachment to the revised EIR.

When recirculating a revised EIR, either in whole or in part, the Department must, in the revised EIR or by an attachment to the revised EIR, summarize the revisions made to the previously circulated draft EIR.

PREPARING A FINAL EIR

Content of Final EIR

The Final EIR must consist of the following:

  1. The draft EIR or a revision of the draft.
  2. Comments and recommendations received on the draft EIR either verbatim or in summary.
  3. A list of persons, organizations, and public agencies commenting on the draft EIR.
  4. Responses to significant environmental points raised in the review and consultation process.

The following sections of a Final EIR are generally updated from those in the Draft EIR:

  1. Cover Sheet (to reflect Final EIR)
  2. Summary (to incorporate changes to alternative analysis and results of coordination as appropriate)
  3. Alternatives Analysis (to identify the preferred alternative and rationale for doing so)
  4. Avoidance, minimization and compensation measures (to reflect final proposals)
  5. Distribution list (to incorporate those who requested a copy of the Draft EIR during circulation)

Responding to Comments

The Department must evaluate comments on environmental issues received from persons who reviewed the draft EIR and prepare written responses. The Department must respond to comments received during the noticed comment period and any extensions and should respond to comments received after the comment period.

The written responses must describe the handling of significant environmental issues raised (e.g., revisions to the proposed project to mitigate anticipated impacts or objections). In particular, when the Department’s position varies from that of the commenter, the response must address in detail the reasons why specific comments and suggestions were not accepted. There must be good faith, reasoned analysis in response. Conclusory statements unsupported by factual information will not suffice.

The response to comments may take the form of a revision to the draft EIR or may be a separate section in the final EIR. Where the response to comments makes important changes in the information contained in the text of the draft EIR, either revise the text in the body of the EIR, or include marginal notes showing that the information is revised in the response to comments.

PROCESSING A FINAL EIR

District and Headquarters Review

The formal process of technical specialist review, peer review, technical editor review and supervisor review must be followed for CEQA-only EIRs. However, a review by the Division of Environmental Analysis Environmental Coordinator is not mandated, but encouraged.

Public and Agency Review of Final EIR

At least 10 days prior to certifying an EIR, the Department must provide a written proposed response to public agencies that commented on the Draft EIR. Copies of responses or the environmental document in which they are contained may be used to meet this requirement.

CEQA does not require a public comment period for a Final EIR. Although the Department may provide an opportunity for review of the final EIR by the public or by commenting agencies before approving the project, this is not typically done. If such a review is used, the focus of the review should be on the responses to comments on the draft EIR.

Certification of Final EIR

The Department must certify the Final EIR before approving the project. Specifically, the Department must certify that:

  1. The final EIR has been completed in compliance with CEQA; 
  2. The final EIR was presented to the Department’s decision-makers, and that the decision-makers reviewed and considered the information contained in the final EIR prior to approving the project; and 
  3. The final EIR reflects the Department’s independent judgment and analysis.

Certification of the Final EIR is a two-part process. First, the Environmental Branch Chief certifies that EIR has been completed in compliance with CEQA and the CEQA Guidelines. Then, the District Director certifies that the Final EIR, findings and statement of overriding considerations have been considered prior to project approval.

Download a blank Certification Form:

Word file Word Icon (35 KB)

Preparation of Findings

If the Department certifies an EIR that identifies that the project will have one or more significant environmental effects (before mitigation), the Department must prepare written findings in accordance with CEQA. For each significant effect, the Department must make one or more of the following findings and include a brief rationale for each finding. The findings should use the exact wording below and must be supported by substantial evidence in the record.

The possible findings are:

  1. “Changes or alterations have been required in, or incorporated into, the project, which avoid or substantially lessen the significant environmental effect as identified in the final EIR.”

    When making the above finding, the Department must also adopt a program for reporting on or monitoring the changes that it has either required in the project or made a condition of approval to avoid or substantially lessen significant environmental effects. These measures must be fully enforceable through permit conditions, agreements, or other measures.

  2. “Such changes or alterations are within the responsibility and jurisdiction of another public agency and not the agency making the finding. Such changes have been adopted by such other agency or can and should be adopted by such other agency.”

    This finding cannot be made if the Department has concurrent jurisdiction with another agency to deal with identified feasible mitigation measures or alternatives.

  3. “Specific economic, legal, social, technological, or other considerations, including provision of employment opportunities for highly trained workers, make infeasible the mitigation measures or project alternatives identified in the final EIR.”

    "Feasible" means capable of being accomplished in a successful manner within a reasonable period of time, taking into account economic, environmental, legal, social, and technological factors.

The finding must state the specific reasons for rejecting identified mitigation measures and project alternatives.

Download a blank CEQA Findings Form

Project Approval

After considering the Final EIR and in conjunction with making findings (see above), the Department may decide whether or how to approve or carry out the project.

The Department must not approve or carry out a project for which an EIR was prepared unless either:

  1. The project as approved will not have a significant effect on the environment, or
  2. The Department has:
    • Eliminated or substantially lessened all significant effects on the environment where feasible as shown in the findings, and
    • Determined that any remaining unavoidable significant effects on the environment are acceptable due to overriding considerations.

Preparation of the Statement of Overriding Considerations (SOC)

If the proposed project will result in unavoidable significant environmental effects, then CEQA requires the Department to balance, as applicable, the economic, legal, social, technological, or other benefits of a proposed project against its unavoidable environmental risks when determining whether to approve the project. If the specific economic, legal, social, technological, or other benefits of a proposed project outweigh the unavoidable adverse environmental effects, the adverse environmental effects may be considered "acceptable."

When the Department approves a project that will result in the unavoidable significant environmental effects, the Department must prepare a Statement of Overriding Considerations (SOC). The SOC must state in writing the specific reasons to support project approval despite its unavoidable significant effects. As a practical matter, the project objectives (purpose and need) for the project are a good starting point for this discussion. The Statement of Overriding Considerations must be supported by substantial evidence in the record.

A Statement of Overriding Considerations is not needed if the proposed project will not result in any significant environmental effects or the effects are mitigated below a level of significance.

Download a blank Statement of Overriding Considerations Form

Preparation of the Notice of Determination and Submittal to the State Clearinghouse

Within five working days of approving a project for which an EIR was prepared, the Department must file a Notice of Determination (NOD) with the State Clearinghouse. (Filing with the county clerk of each involved county is optional.) The NOD must be signed by the Environmental Branch Chief and completed in full before the State Clearinghouse will post it. The Notice must also be sent to anyone previously requesting notice.

The information required in a NOD is:

  1. An identification of the project including its common name where possible and its location.
  2. A brief description of the project.
  3. The date when the agency approved the project.
  4. The determination of the agency whether the project in its approved form will have a significant effect on the environment.
  5. A statement that an EIR was prepared and certified pursuant to the provisions of CEQA.
  6. Whether mitigation measures were made a condition of the approval of the project.
  7. Whether findings were made.
  8. Whether a statement of overriding considerations was adopted for the project.
  9. The address where a copy of the final EIR and the record of project approval may be examined.

 

When filing the NOD with the State Clearinghouse, the district must submit proof of payment of an environmental filing fee to the State Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) if the EIR identified any potential impacts on fish or wildlife resources (see Fish and Game Code Section 711.4 Exit Caltrans Icon). A check made out to the Department of Fish and Wildlife should be sent to the State Clearinghouse along with the NOD. If the project will have no effect on fish and wildlife, the district can seek to have the fee waived by contacting the CDFW region in which the project is located, and obtaining CDFW's determination and documentation that the project is exempt from the fee. For further information, please see the CEQA Environmental Document Filing Fees.

The State Clearinghouse cannot post a NOD without the required Fish and Wildlife filing fee or determination of fee exemption from CDFW.

The NOD, the payment of Fish and Wildlife filing fee (or determination of fee exemption from CDFW) and a copy of the final document (for informational purposes) are sent to:

State Clearinghouse
P.O. Box 3044
Sacramento, CA 95812-3044

A NOD filed with the State Clearinghouse is available for public inspection and shall be posted for a period of at least 30 days.

The filing of the NOD and the posting of such notice start a 30-day statute of limitations on court challenges to the Department’s approval under CEQA. The 30 days is neither a comment period nor a waiting period. Projects without federal involvement may proceed immediately.

Although it is not required that a Final EIR be filed with the State Clearinghouse, it is recommended that a copy be provided for information purposes.

Electronic Submittal

Public Resources Code 21082.1(c)(4) requires that a state lead agency, such as the Department, submit an electronic format of the EIR as well as hard copies of the document. Acceptable formats include word files and pdf files and should be submitted on a CD along with the hard copies of the document and the NOC.

California Transportation Commission (CTC) submittal process

For projects requiring action by the California Transportation Commission (CTC) - i.e., approval of funds and/or new public road connection and/or route adoption - a submittal package must be sent to the Division of Environmental Analysis for forwarding to the CTC. Click here for the CTC submittal instructions.

DISPOSITION OF FINAL EIR

The following are requirements for disposition of a Final EIR:

  1. A copy of the Final EIR shall be sent to the appropriate planning agency of any city, county, or city and county where significant effects on the environment may occur.
  2. One or more copies of the FEIR shall be kept as public records in the district’s project file for a reasonable period of time.
  3. Provide a copy of the certified, final EIR to each responsible agency.
  4. Include the Final EIR as part of the Project Report that will be presented to the decision-maker.

SUBSEQUENT AND SUPPLEMENTAL EIRS AND ADDENDUMS

When an environmental impact report has been prepared for a project, no subsequent or supplemental environmental impact report is required, unless "substantial changes" in the project or its circumstances will require major revisions to the EIR. Namely, one or more of the following events occurs:

  1. Substantial changes are proposed in the project that will require major revisions of the environmental impact report due to the involvement of new significant environmental effects or a substantial increase in the severity of previously identified significant effects.
  2. Substantial changes occur with respect to the circumstances under which the project is being undertaken which will require major revisions in the environmental impact report due to the involvement of new significant environmental effects or a substantial increase in the severity of previously identified significant effects.
  3. New information, which was not known and could not have been known at the time the environmental impact report was certified as complete, becomes available. New information includes:
    • The project will have one or more significant effects not discussed in the previous EIR;
    • Significant effects previously examined will be substantially more severe than shown in the previous EIR;
    • Mitigation measures or alternatives previously found not to be feasible would in fact be feasible, and would substantially reduce one or more significant effects of the project, but the Department declines to adopt them; or
    • Mitigation measures or alternatives, which are considerably different from those analyzed in the previous EIR, would substantially reduce one or more significant effects on the environment, but the Department declines to adopt them.

Distinguishing Subsequent EIRs and Supplemental EIRs

As a practical matter, a supplement to an EIR is somewhat easier to prepare and process than a Subsequent EIR since a supplement need contain only the information necessary to make the previous EIR adequate for the project as revised. In addition, a supplement to an EIR may be circulated by itself without recirculating the previous draft or final EIR.

A supplement to an EIR rather than a subsequent EIR may be prepared if:

  1. Any of the conditions described above would require the preparation of a subsequent EIR, and
  2. Only minor additions or changes would be necessary to make the previous EIR adequately apply to the project in the changed situation.

Both a supplement to an EIR and a Subsequent EIR must be given the same kind of notice and public review as is given to a draft EIR. Following the pubic comment period, a Final supplemental or subsequent EIR is prepared and processed in the same manner as a Final EIR (see discussion above).

When the agency decides whether to approve the project, the decision-making body shall consider the previous EIR as revised by the supplemental EIR. A finding must be made for each significant effect shown in the revised EIR.

Preparation of an Addendum to an EIR

If only minor technical changes or additions are needed and no new or substantially more severe significant effects result, an Addendum to an approved EIR may be prepared. An addendum need not be circulated for public review but must be included in or attached to the final EIR.

A brief explanation of the decision not to prepare a subsequent EIR should be included in an Addendum to an EIR, the findings on the project, or elsewhere in the record. The explanation must be supported by substantial evidence.

INFORMATION NEEDED FOR PROJECT DELIVERY

Project Initiation Document

The Preliminary Environmental Analysis Report should include a statement that an EIR will be required for the project and briefly state what significant impacts are anticipated. This information should be incorporated into the PID.

Draft Project Report

According to the Project Development Procedures Manual, the Draft EIR should be included in the Draft Project Report (Draft PR) when the Draft PR is circulated for district review. Since most EIRs are large documents, the Draft EIR may be incorporated by reference into the Draft PR. During the Project Approval/Environmental Document (PA/ED) phase of a project, communication between the environmental planner and the project engineer is crucial. The project engineer must keep the environmental planner aware of any revisions to the preliminary design of the project so that the environmental studies and document accurately assess the potential environmental impacts of the project. Also, the environmental planner must keep the project engineer informed of the location of sensitive environmental resources so that avoidance and minimization measures can be incorporated into the project. Because of this iterative process, the Draft PR and Draft EIR are often finalized almost simultaneously.

Project Report

Just as the Draft EIR is technically an attachment to the Draft PR, the Final EIR is an attachment to the Project Report (PR). The Final EIR may be incorporated by reference into the PR. Again, communication between the project engineer and the environmental planner is paramount as the proposed project design may change in response to public and agency comments received during the circulation of the Draft EIR.

 

(Last content update:12/19/2013, JH)