Purpose of the SER



This reference applies to all transportation projects developed under the auspices of Caltrans and to all local agency highway or local streets and roads projects with funding or approvals by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).


The purpose of the Standard Environmental Reference (SER) is to provide a single, standard reference on compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and related federal laws, executive orders, regulations, and policies. The reference is intended for statewide use by local agencies, Caltrans, and FHWA staff. The SER also provides information on compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and related state laws, executive orders, and regulations. This information is for use by Caltrans in the preparation of environmental documentation on projects for which it is the CEQA lead agency. Local agencies, acting as lead for CEQA on their own projects, may also wish to refer to these portions of the SER for guidance and ideas supplemental to their own procedures.

The objective of the SER is to focus on statutory and regulatory requirements for environmental documents and technical studies, as well as and on procedures for processing environmental documentation for both local assistance and Caltrans projects. The SER sets forth document content and format, as required by law or regulation, and recommended format, if not specified by law or regulation. Reports and documents prepared for projects on the state highway system shall adhere to the content and recommended formats contained herein. Projects off the state highway system (local assistance projects) are not required to use the recommended formats. However, following them expedites the review and approval processes and concurrence by reviewing agencies. In addition, the SER provides a number of tools for the development of the documentation including links to additional information. Whenever possible, the use of joint CEQA and NEPA documentation is recommended.

This is the first version of the Standard Environmental Reference. It supersedes the Caltrans Environmental Handbook Volume 1 "Environmental Process, Procedures, and Documentation," dated March 1995. The SER also links to various other Caltrans manuals, handbooks, and protocols for detailed information on subject areas.

The SER is constantly being updated.


The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its supporting Federal regulations establish certain requirements that must be adhered to for any project "...financed assisted, conducted or approved by a Federal agency. . ." In short, Federal regulations require that a Federal agency "...determine whether the proposed action may significantly affect the quality of the human environment." The Federal Highway Administration works with Caltrans to implement NEPA on federal-aid projects on the state highway system; and through Caltrans to implement NEPA on federal-aid projects on local streets and roads.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that all public agencies adopt regulations to implement the act. Caltrans' regulations are codified in the California Code of Regulations, Title 21, Sections 1501et seq. These non-regulatory guidelines supplement those regulations.

The processes and procedures established in this manual are provided for the information and guidance of the officers and employees of Caltrans, as well as for any local entity, private developer, or consultant engaged in project development activities involving California state highways as well as federal aid projects on local streets and roads. It is not intended that any standard of conduct or duty toward the public shall be created or imposed by this manual.

Statements specifying duties and responsibilities of any given classification of officers or employees mentioned herein refer solely to duties or responsibilities of such classification to their management, to various members of the project development team, or to their relationships with organizational units in Caltrans.

There is no intent to impose organizational requirements on any Caltrans district beyond that which is already established by the Caltrans Policy process.

Many of the processes and procedures in this manual are subject to change as circumstance and experience warrant. Special situations may dictate a prudent variation (within legal limitations) from a requirement; such a variation is subject to approval by the District Director, by the Environmental Program Manager (if specifically required), or by some other approval authority (where specifically provided for).