OPR Proposes First Comprehensive Update to the CEQA Guidelines in Twenty Years, Affecting Several Areas of Analysis

On November 27, 2017, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) presented the California Natural Resources Agency with proposed amendments to the CEQA Guidelines (hyperlink to: http://opr.ca.gov/docs/20171127_Comprehensive_CEQA_Guidelines_Package_Nov_2017.pdf). As Director Ken Alex noted in his transmittal letter (hyperlink to: http://opr.ca.gov/docs/20171127_Transmittal_Letter_OPR_to_Resources_Nov_2017.pdf), this is the most comprehensive update to the Guidelines since the late 1990s. Among other changes, OPR’s amendments affect the analysis of energy impacts, promote the use of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as the primary metric for transportation impacts, and clarify Guidelines section 15126.2 to specify that an agency must analyze hazards that a project may risk exacerbating.

The amendments to the CEQA Guidelines have been shaped by several years of discussion and public comment. OPR began discussions with stakeholders in 2013 and released a preliminary discussion draft of the comprehensive changes to the Guidelines in August 2015. OPR received hundreds of comments on the proposed updates and has provided a document with Thematic Responses to Comments (hyperlink to: http://opr.ca.gov/docs/20171127_OPR_Thematic_Responses_to_Comments_Nov_2017.pdf).

One of the most highly-anticipated and impactful changes is the switch from the level of service (LOS) to VMT as the primary metric in analysis of transportation impacts. These updates were required by Senate Bill 743, which directed OPR to develop alternative methods for measuring transportation impacts. Due to the complexity of these changes, OPR has provided a Technical Advisory on Evaluating Transportation Impacts in CEQA (hyperlink to: http://opr.ca.gov/docs/20171127_Transportation_Analysis_TA_Nov_2017.pdf) to assist public agencies.

Some highlights from the proposed updates include:

  1. Appendix G: adds new questions related to Energy, VMT, and Wildfire;
  2. Guidelines section 15064.3 (SB 743): establishes VMT as the primary metric for analyzing transportation impacts, with agencies having a two-year opt-in period to make the transition easier;
  3. Energy impacts: includes changes to Appendix G and makes clear that analysis must include energy use for all project phases and include transportation-related energy;
  4. Guidelines section 15126.2, subdivision (a): adds the phrase “or risks exacerbating” to implement the California Supreme Court’s holding in California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (2015) 62 Cal.4th 369, requiring an EIR to analyze existing hazards that a project may make worse; and
  5. Guidelines section 15064.4: includes clarifications related to the analysis of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to reflect the Supreme Court’s decisions in Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments (2017) 3 Cal.5th 497 and Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Fish & Wildlife (2015) 62 Cal.4th 204 (“Newhall Ranch”)

As of December 2017, the Natural Resources Agency has not initiated the formal administrative rulemaking process under the Administrative Procedure Act. When formal rulemaking is initiated, there will be additional opportunities for public review, with the possibility of further revisions. The Secretary for the Natural Resources Agency could then adopt OPR’s proposed changes. The Office of Administrative Law would need to approve the changes before they could go into effect.

See http://opr.ca.gov/ceqa/updates/guidelines/ for more details, including information about how to register to receive updates from OPR on the status of the rulemaking process.