Evaluation of the California Environmental Quality Act

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The California Environmental Qualify Act (CEQA) has evolved from a mini- NEPA, first enacted in 1970, into a procedural act that affects the approval process of all large developments in California. In 1990, California local governments produced over 1600 environmental impact reports and 30,000 initial studies under CEQA. Because of its widespread use, CEQA has periodically drawn the attention of the state legislature, most recently in 1993, when over 60 CEQA reform bills were introduced. This paper describes the CEQA process and evaluates its success at meeting its explicit and implicit goals. The research includes a statewide survey of CEQA practice, sent to the planning departments of all 513 local governments in California in 1991. Survey respondents agreed that CEQA helps in evaluating environmental impacts, reducing impacts, informing the public, and coordinating public agency review. It is effective in reducing the environmental impacts of individual projects, but is not as effective in improving environmental quality on an areawide scale. This research concludes that CEQA has led to positive outcomes and is not as deeply flawed as many of its critics claim. Still, CEQA as currently designed may not be the optimal vehicle for ensuring environmental quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-23
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996


  • California Environmental Quality Act
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • Environmental planning
  • Environmental program evaluation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Pollution


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