The EIR process starts with the decision to prepare an EIR. This decision will be made either during preliminary review, or at the conclusion of an initial study after applying the standards described in 14 CCR Section 15064.
If the lead agency determines during the preliminary review that an EIR will be required, the EIR process can begin right then rather than requiring the project to go through an initial study. Alternatively, the lead agency can conduct the initial study and use the information developed in the initial study to determine whether to prepare an EIR or a ND. This section merely refers to the standards described in Section 15064 for determining whether a project may have a significant effect on the environment. If the lead agency can determine that the project may have a significant effect on the environment, then it is required to prepare an EIR for the project.
Determination of the Scope of an EIR
Immediately after deciding that an EIR is required for a project, the lead agency shall send to each responsible agency and trustee agency a notice of preparation stating that an EIR will be prepared. The notice of preparation shall provide the responsible and trustee agencies with sufficient information describing the project and the potential environmental effects to enable the responsible and trustee agencies to make a meaningful response. At a minimum, the information shall include: description of the project, location of the project indicated on atopographical map, any probable environmental impacts as a result of implementation of the project, address where comments may be sent,and deadline for submitting comments.
When one or more State agencies will be a responsible agency or a trustee agency, the lead agency shall send a notice of preparation to each State responsible agency and each trustee agency with a copy to the State Clearinghouse in the Office of Planning and Research. The State Clearinghouse will circulate the environmental documents providedby the lead agency to all state responsible and trustee agencies as well as sdvising those agencies when responses are due. When the notice of preparation is submitted to the State Clearinghouse, a number will be issued and be the identification number for the NOP and all subsequent environmental documents on the project. The State Clearinghouse number should be referenced on all subsequent correspondence regarding the project, specifically on the title page of the draft and final EIR and on the notice of determination.
Within 30 days of receiving the notice of preparation each responsible and trustee agency shall provide the lead agency with specific detail about the scope and content of the environmental information related to the responsible and trustee agency’s area of statutory responsibility that must be included in the draft EIR.
The lead agency may begin work on the draft EIR immediately without awaiting responses to the notice of preparation. The draft EIR in preparation may need to be revised or expanded to conform to responses and comments to the notice of preparation. A lead agency shall not circulate the draft EIR for public review before the time-period for responses to the notice of preparation has expired.
Early Consultation with Responsible Agencies
In order to expedite the consultation, the lead agency, a responsible agency, a trustee agency, or a project applicant may request one or more meetings between representatives of the agencies involved to assist the lead agency in determining the scope and content of the environmental information which the responsible agency may require. Such meetings shall be convened by the lead agency as soon as possible, but no later than, 30 days after the meetings were requested. On request, the Office of Planning and Research (State Clearinghouse) will assist in convening meetings that involve State agencies.
Early Public Consultation
Prior to completing the draft EIR, the lead agency may also consult directly with any person or organization it believes will be concerned with the environmental effects of the project. Many public agencies have found that early consultation solves many potential problems that would arise in forms that would arise in more serious form later during the review process. This early consultation is often referred to as “scoping”.
Scoping has been helpful to agencies in identifying the range of actions, alternatives, mitigation measures, and significant effects to be analyzed in depth in an EIR and in eliminating from the detailed study issues of non-importance. Scoping has also been found to be an effective way to bring together and resolve the concerns of affected federal, state, and local agencies, the proponent of the action, and other interested persons including those who might not be in accord with the action on environmental grounds.
Reference: The CEQA EIR Process