CEQA Glossary

Cup of pens with a post-it on the side

Demystifying the language

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AR – Administrative RecordThe AR provides the “whole record” that a court evaluates when there is a challenge to an agency’s decision. The record includes all evidence that an agency considered when making their decision on a project, providing evidence of their compliance with CEQA. It includes all public comments that were submitted properly. 

CalVTP – California Vegetation Treatment Program – Developed by the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, the CalVTP includes the use of prescribed burning, mechanical treatments, manual treatments, herbicide application, and prescribed herbivory as tools to reduce hazardous vegetation around communities in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), to construct fuel breaks (shaded or non-shaded), and to promote ecological restoration. The CalVTP Program Environmental Impact Report (EIR) provides a powerful California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance tool to expedite the implementation of wildfire resilience projects. 

CDFW – California Department of Fish and Wildlife – CDFW is a state agency charged with managing California’s diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public. CDFW acts as a trustee agency over projects when the project may affect fish, wildlife, or their habitats, triggering state involvement (CEQA Guidelines 15386(a)). CDFW may also assume the role of responsible or lead agency if CDFW is proposing one of its own projects or issuing a permit for a project with no other agency approvals (CEQA Guidelines 15050). The CDFW maintains the CNDDB, which collaborates with CNPS on Rare Plant Rank Status Review.  

CDNPA – California Desert Native Plants Act – Protects certain species of California desert native plants on both public and privately owned lands, by prohibiting their harvest, transport, sale, or possession unless a valid permit has been obtained from the sheriff or county commissioner. It only applies to certain California counties (Imperial, Inyo, Kern Los Angeles, Mono, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Yolo).  

CatEx – Categorical Exclusion – Under NEPA, a federal action may be “categorically excluded” from a detailed environmental analysis when the federal action normally does not have a significant effect on the human environment (40 CFR 1508.1(d)). However, this has grown in controversy as more and more types of projects are added to the list of projects that are categorically excluded from the NEPA process. 

CE – Categorical Exemption – Classes of projects exempted from CEQA because the California Secretary of Natural Resources has determined that they typically do not have substantial impacts on the environment. Categorical Exemptions are subject to a variety of “exceptions.” If an exception applies to an otherwise categorically exempt project, the project must go through CEQA review.  

CESA – The California Endangered Species Act – CA environmental law enacted in 1970 that conserves and protects plant and animal species at risk of extinction, designated threatened or endangered under CESA by the California Fish and Game Commission. A CESA-listed species, or any part or product of the plant or animal, may not be imported into the state, exported out of the state, “taken” (i.e., killed), possessed, purchased, or sold without proper authorization. 

CEQA – The California Environmental Quality Act – CEQA’s purpose is to “Identify the ways that environmental damage can be avoided or significantly reduced, prevent significant, avoidable damage to the environment by requiring changes in projects through the use of alternatives or mitigation measures when the governmental agency finds the changes to be feasible, and to disclose to the public the reasons why a governmental agency approved the project in the manner the agency chose if significant environmental effects are involved.” (Section 15002(a)). 

CNDDB – California Natural Diversity Database – The goal of the CNDDB is to provide the most current information available on the state’s most imperiled elements of natural diversity and to provide tools to analyze these data. The CNDDB operates in collaboration with CNPS on California Rare Plant Ranks and Status Review. 

CRP – Certified Regulatory Programs – State regulatory programs that are exempt from the CEQA requirement to prepare an EIR becuase they have been certified as meeting the criteria necessary to fulfill the basic goals of CEQA. These programs are often referred to as being “functionally equivalent” to an EIR. Some examples of certified regulatory programs include the regulation of timber harvest operations by the CalFire and the Coastal Commission’s program for consideration and granting of coastal development permits. 

DEIR – Draft Environmental Impact Report – The agency must prepare a draft of the EIR after it is concluded that the project will result in significant environmental impact. The draft is a complete EIR that can be completed by the agency, or delegated 

EA – Environmental Assessment – Under NEPA, a federal agency conducts an EA to determine whether or not a federal action has the potential to cause significant environmental effects. Each federal agency has adopted its own NEPA procedures for the preparation of EAs.  

EIR – Environmental Impact Report – Under CEQA, if a project may cause adverse environmental impacts, the public agency must prepare an EIR. An EIR contains in-depth studies of potential impacts, measures to reduce or avoid those impacts, and an analysis of alternatives to the project. A key feature of the CEQA process is the opportunity for the public to review and provide input on both Negative Declarations and EIRs. The EIR must go through a public review period of about 30 days.  

EIS – Environmental Impact Statement – Under NEPA, if the EA determines that the federal action does have the potential to cause significant environmental effects, an EIS is produced. The EIS is much more rigorous than the EA and follows a template that is similar to CEQA. The EIS process ends with the ROD. 

ESA – Endangered Species Act – Federal environmental law passed in 1973 to provide legal mechanisms for the conservation of threatened and endangered species and their ecosystems, including plants. Requires federal agencies, to ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat of such species. 

FEIR – Final Environmental Impact Report – Under CEQA, the FEIR must address any public comments to the DEIR in writing. It includes all updates and additions to the draft and may come along with other supplemental documents. The FEIR has no public review period but triggers a 30-day statute of limitations in which the agency’s approval of the project can be challenged in court. 

FONSI – Finding of No Significant Impact – Under NEPA, the FONSI follows an EA if the action is assessed to have no significant environmental impact. It presents the reasons why the agency has concluded that there are no significant environmental impacts projected to occur upon implementation of the action. 

HCP – Habitat Conservation Plan – Under the ESA, HCPs provide for partnerships with non-federal parties to conserve the ecosystems upon which listed species depend, ultimately contributing to their recovery. HCPs are planning documents required as part of an application for an incidental take permit. They describe the anticipated effects of the proposed taking; how those impacts will be minimized, or mitigated; and how the HCP is to be funded. 

IS – Initial Study – Following preliminary review, the Lead Agency shall conduct an Initial Study to determine if the project may have a significant effect on the environment. If the Lead Agency can determine that an EIR will clearly be required for the project, an Initial Study is not required but may still be desirable. (CEQA Guidelines §15063 (a)). The IS accompanies either the ND/MND or the NOP for the EIR, and should be addressed in the comments for those documents during their respective review periods. 

MCA – Mitigation Credit Agreement – When RCIS is approved, CDFW can issue MCAs that can be used to offset environmental impacts of future projects, to bring the project into compliance with conservation laws. 

MND – Mitigated Negative Declaration – Under CEQA, an MND is a negative declaration prepared for a project when the initial study has identified potentially significant effects on the environment, but (1) revisions in the project plans or proposals made by, or agreed to by, the applicant before the proposed negative declaration and initial study are released for public review would avoid the effects or mitigate the effects to a point where clearly no significant effect on the environment would occur, and (2) there is no substantial evidence in light of the whole record before the public agency that the project, as revised, may have a significant effect on the environment (CEQA Guidelines 15369.5). The public review period for a proposed mitigated negative declaration shall be not less than 20 days (§ 21091. (b)). 

NCCP – Natural Community Conservation Plan – A plan under NCCPA that has the main objective of conserving natural communities while accommodating compatible land use. To be approved, the plan must provide for the conservation of species and protection and management of natural communities in perpetuity within the area covered. 

NCCPA – Natural Community Conservation Planning Act – Passed in 1991 to be run by the CDFW, NCCPA allows for the development of long-term protection of species and habitats through cooperative ecosystem level planning.  

ND, Neg Dec – Negative Declaration – Under CEQA, a Neg Dec is a written statement by the Lead Agency briefly describing the reasons that a proposed project, not exempt from CEQA, will not have a significant effect on the environment and therefore does not require the preparation of an EIR (CEQA Guidelines 15371). It follows the completion of an IS and has a public review period of at least 20 days. 

NEPA – The National Environmental Policy Act – Enacted in 1970, this act requires an environmental review process for any project that involves federal funding to determine if there will be significant environmental impact. The NEPA review process requires the preparation of an EA or EIS and a public comment period.  

NOA – Notice of Availability – Under CEQA, an NOA must be circulated to announce when a draft environmental impact report (EIR) is available for viewing, or that an EIR is being recirculated due to new information about a previously approved project. The NOA is sent to anyone who has requested notice, and it is published in a general circulation newspaper. 

NOC – Notice of Completion – Under CEQA, as soon as the draft EIR is completed, a notice of completion must be filed by the lead agency with the Office of Planning and Research. 

NOD – Notice of Determination – Under CEQA, the NOD is a brief notice filed by the lead agency after it approves or determines to carry out a project which is subject to the requirements of CEQA (CEQA Guidelines 15373). Once the NOD is filed, there is a 30-day period in which the determination can be legally challenged. If it is not challenged during that period, the CEQA process is then complete for that project. 

NOE – Notice of Exemption – Under CEQA, when a public agency decides that a project is exempt from CEQA pursuant to Section 15061, and the public agency approves or determines to carry out the project, the agency may file a Notice of Exemption. (CEQA Guidelines Section 15062). The principal benefit of filing an NOE for an agency is that it reduces the statute of limitations for filing a legal challenge to the project from 180 days after project approval to 35 days after filing of the NOE. There is no requirement for public review or circulation. 

NOI – Notice of Intent – Under CEQA, the lead agency shall provide a NOI to adopt a negative declaration or mitigated negative declaration to the public, responsible agencies, trustee agencies, and the county clerk of each county within which the proposed project is located, sufficiently prior to adoption by the lead agency of the negative declaration or mitigated negative declaration to allow the public and agencies. (CEQA Guidelines 15072(a)) 

NOP – Notice of Preparation – Under CEQA, the NOP is a brief notice sent by a Lead Agency to notify the Responsible Agencies, Trustee Agencies, the Office of Planning and Research, and involved federal agencies that the Lead Agency plans to prepare an EIR for the project. The purpose of the notice is to solicit guidance from those agencies as to the scope and content of the environmental information to be included in the EIR (CEQA Guidelines 15375). The NOP is directed primarily to state and local agencies, but it can be provided to individuals or organizations on request. 

NPPA – Native Plant Protection Act – Enacted in 1977 (before CESA was amended to also include protections for plant species in 1984), to protect rare and endangered plants. With CESA amendment, this law became less relevant, as endangered plant species under NPPA were grandfathered into CESA, although plants listed as “rare” under NPPA were not given any protection under CESA. 

OPR – Governor’s Office of Planning and Research – In addition to developing and updating the CEQA Guidelines, OPR runs the State Clearinghouse, which coordinates state level review of CEQA documents, under certain circumstances designates a lead agency, and provides technical assistance to state and local government agencies, including the development of technical advisories on selected CEQA topics. 

PSA – Project Specific Analysis – The California Vegetation Treatment Program (CalVTP) is a state-wide program designed for implementation of vegetation treatment projects across the state as part of California’s wildfire strategy. A program EIR was prepared to assess the environmental impacts of the program and provide mitigation measures to address the impacts of the various treatments that would be performed under the VTP. Project Specific Analyses (PSAs) are documents prepared for each individual vegetation treatment project for the purpose of determining that project’s particular environmental impacts and specific mitigation measures that are appropriate for that project. 

RCA – Regional Conservation Assessment – RCAs inform conservation priorities and provide data in support of ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, water conservation, and preservation of agricultural lands. RCA’s help to inform RCISs, defining lands of least and greatest conservation value. 

RCIS – Regional Conservation Investment Strategies – An RCIS establishes biological goals and objectives at the species level and describes conservation actions and habitat enhancement actions that, if implemented, will contribute to those goals and objectives. 

ROD – Record of Decision – Under NEPA, the ROD follows the EIS. The ROD explains the agency’s final decision on the action, describes the alternatives the agency considered, and discusses the agency’s plans for mitigation and monitoring, if necessary. 

SE – Statutory Exemption – Statutory exemptions are granted by the California Legislature for individual or classes of projects and apply regardless of the environmental impacts of the project for state policy reasons. (AEP) These will never require a CEQA process, and have no exceptions, unlike CEs. 

SOC – Statement of Overriding Considerations – Under CEQA, a SOC is needed if the agency decides that the specific economic, legal, social, technological, or other benefits, including region-wide or statewide environmental benefits, of a proposed project outweigh the unavoidable adverse environmental effects. When the lead agency approves such a project, the agency shall state in writing the specific reasons to support its action based on the final EIR and/or other information in the record. The SOC shall be supported by substantial evidence in the record. (CEQA Guidelines 15093) 

Applicant – In CEQA, an applicant is a person who proposes to carry out a project which needs a lease, permit, license, certificate, or other entitlement for use or financial assistance from one or more public agencies when that person applies for the governmental approval or assistance. (CEQA Guidelines 15351) 

Lead Agency – The public agency which has the principal responsibility for carrying out or approving a project. The Lead Agency will decide whether an EIR or Negative Declaration will be required for the project and will cause the document to be prepared. (CEQA Guidelines 15367) 

Local Agency – Any public agency other than a state agency, board, or commission. Local agency includes but is not limited to cities, counties, charter cities and counties, districts, school districts, special districts, redevelopment agencies, local agency formation commissions, and any board, commission, or organizational subdivision of a local agency when so designated by order or resolution of the governing legislative body of the local agency. (CEQA Guidelines 15368) 

Public Agency – Under CEQA, public agency includes any state agency, board, or commission and any local or regional agency, as defined in these Guidelines. It does not include the courts of the state. This term does not include agencies of the federal government. (CEQA Guidelines 15379) 

Responsible Agencies – A public agency which proposes to carry out or approve a project, for which a Lead Agency is preparing or has prepared an EIR or Negative Declaration. For the purposes of CEQA, the term “Responsible Agency” includes all public agencies other than the Lead Agency which have discretionary approval power over the project. For example, CDFW acts as a responsible agency if a project that is being overseen by a different lead agency requires an incidental take permit or a lake or streambed alteration permit. (CEQA Guidelines 15381) 

State Agency – A governmental agency in the executive branch of the State Government or an entity which operates under the direction and control of an agency in the executive branch of State Government and is funded primarily by the State Treasury. (CEQA Guidelines15383) 

Trustee Agencies – A state agency having jurisdiction by law over natural resources affected by a project which are held in trust for the people of the State of California. Trustee Agencies include: (a) The California Department of Fish and Game 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; (b) The State Lands Commission with regard to state owned “sovereign” lands such as the beds of navigable waters and state school lands; (c) The State Department of Parks and Recreation with regard to units of the State Park System; (d) The University of California with regard to sites within the Natural Land and Water Reserves System. (CEQA Guidelines 15386) 

Ministerial Action – A ministerial action is a governmental decision involving little or no personal judgment by the public official as to the wisdom or manner of carrying out the project. Ministerial actions are covered by statutory exemptions from CEQA as ministerial actions, by definition, are not “projects” under CEQA because they are not discretionary actions by a public agency. Examples of ministerial projects would include automobile registrations and some building permits limited to determining proper zoning. (CEQA Guidelines 15369) 

Significance – In CEQA, a “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 land, air, water, minerals, flora, fauna, ambient noise, and objects of historic or aesthetic significance. An economic or social change by itself shall not be considered a significant effect on the environment. A social or economic change related to a physical change may be considered in determining whether the physical change is significant. (CEQA Guidelines 15382) 

Project – Under CEQA, a project is the whole of an action, which has a potential for resulting in either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment, and that is any of the following: (1) An activity directly undertaken by any public agency (2) An activity undertaken by a person which is supported in whole or in part through public agency contacts, grants, subsidies, loans, or other forms of assistance from one or more public agencies. (3) An activity involving the issuance to a person of a lease, permit, license, certificate, or other entitlement for use by one or more public agencies. 

Tiering – “Tiering” refers to using the analysis of general matters contained in a broader EIR (such as one prepared for a general plan or policy statement) with later EIRs and negative declarations on narrower projects; incorporating by reference the general discussions from the broader EIR; and concentrating the later EIR or negative declaration solely on the issues specific to the later project. 

Endangered Species – A species is “endangered” when its survival and reproduction in the wild are in immediate jeopardy from one or more causes, including loss of habitat, change in habitat, overexploitation, predation, competition, disease, or other factors. (CEQA Guidelines 15380(b)(1)). Endangered species are protected under CEQA. 

Rare Species – A species is considered “rare” when either: (A) Although not presently threatened with extinction, the species is existing in such small numbers throughout all or a significant portion of its range that it may become endangered if its environment worsens; or (B) The species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range and may be considered “threatened” as that term is used in the Federal Endangered Species Act. (CEQA Guidelines 15380). Rare species are protected under CEQA. 

Threatened Species – Any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Threatened species are protected under CEQA.