California Natural Resources Agency adopts final amendments to CEQA Guidelines, providing additional clarifying revisions to GHG impacts, baseline, and deferral of mitigation amendments.

By Marc Campopiano, Winston Stromberg, and Samantha Seikkula

The California Office of Administrative Law recently approved a suite of amendments to the CEQA Guidelines, which are now in effect. Latham wrote about these amendments last year, when the Natural Resources Agency began the rulemaking process under the Administrative Procedure Act. During this rulemaking process, the California Natural Resources Agency (Agency) considered comments on the proposed amendments from members of the public, responded to those comments, and made some slight revisions to the amendments. The final adopted text of the amendments is available here.

Relevant revisions to the amendments made during the rulemaking process include:

  • Section 15064.4 (Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Impacts): The Agency clarified that a project’s incremental contribution to climate change impacts should not be compared to state, national, or global GHG emissions to determine whether the project’s emissions are cumulatively considerable. Further, if using consistency with state goals and policies as a means to determine significance, the lead agency should explain how the project’s emissions are consistent with those goals.
  • Section 15125 (Baseline): The Agency clarified that the procedural requirement to justify a baseline other than existing conditions does not apply to reliance on historic conditions. Rather, the procedural requirement applies only to use of future conditions as a sole baseline.
  • Section 15126.4 (Deferral of Mitigation): The Agency proposed to clarify when mitigation may be permissibly deferred until after project approval, consistent with case law. In response to comments, the Agency clarified that if details are deferred, a lead agency must identify at least the types of measures that are known to be feasible and that will achieve an adopted performance standard — rather than simply provide a list of possible mitigation actions that will be considered, analyzed, and potentially incorporated.

Additionally, the Agency’s shift in approach for assessing a project’s potential transportation impacts from Level of Service to Vehicle Miles Traveled will apply prospectively as described in CEQA Guidelines section 15007. A lead agency may elect to be governed by the new Section 15064.3 immediately, but beginning on July 1, 2020, the requirements to analyze Vehicle Miles Traveled will apply statewide.