The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) are soliciting input on the public review draft of “NEPA and CEQA: Integrating State and Federal Environmental Reviews.” The handbook strives to improve efficiency, transparency and coordination in the joint environmental review process, in order for federal and state agencies to continue to pursue shared goals and to meet the requirements of both statutes. This draft handbook identifies key similarities and differences between the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and provides suggestions to assist agencies, project applicants, and members of the public in identifying early on the potential coordination challenges that may arise during the environmental review process and in enhancing effective participation in review. Developing a common understanding of the NEPA and CEQA review processes and their differences at the beginning of a joint review process will assist agencies in avoiding delay. The draft handbook also provides a framework for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between two or more agencies entering into a joint NEPA/ CEQA review process. Finally, the handbook summarizes and compares NEPA with the California Energy Commission’s licensing process.
The draft is open for public comment until April 19, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
The draft handbook identifies specific opportunities for coordinating NEPA and CEQA review and states the following goals:
- Encourage federal agencies to choose one lead agency to work with a CEQA co-lead agency;
- Encourage federal and California agencies to conduct public hearings, public comment periods, and final review periods jointly where possible;
- Recommend that federal and California agencies develop a joint public review timeline that incorporates the applicable public participation requirements under both statutes;
- Suggest that federal and California agencies preparing a joint EIS/EIR include a section in each impact analysis that makes a CEQA significance determination; and
- Recommend that agencies preparing a joint EIS/EIR select a range of alternatives broad enough to meet CEQA requirements and discuss them at a level of detail that would meet NEPA requirements.
The draft handbook also includes information for agencies planning to enter into a MOU to guide a joint NEPA/CEQA process. A MOU can define the roles of each agency and establish the framework of the environmental review. The draft handbook suggests that MOUs be used to address issues such as which agency will communicate with the applicant, allocating the responsibility for reviewing and responding to public comments, and determining the applicable time frames and milestones. MOUs can also define how the agencies will resolve disagreements.
The draft NEPA/CEQA handbook is a comprehensive project planning resource for agencies and proponents of projects in California that require federal approval.
The Handbook is available here: http://opr.ca.gov/docs/NEPACEQAHandbookMarch2013.pdf
Comments may be submitted here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/nepa/submit