California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

LEA Advisory #22—June 1, 1995

Changes in Design or Operation and CEQA Compliance

To All Local Enforcement Agencies:

The purpose of this advisory is to provide clarification and guidance regarding compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as related to changes in design or operation (changes) at solid waste facilities with a full or standardized permit (permit).

Changes in design or operation which could be subject to CEQA analysis are those which require discretionary approval of amendments to the Report of Facility Information (RFI) and/or approval of changes to the permit. Please note that all changes in design or operation which would result in noncompliance with the permit require a change in the permit. When a change may cause direct or indirect physical change to the environment, it must be deemed a "project" under CEQA.

Changes as a CEQA Project

Recent changes to Public Resources Code (PRC) 21065 now make it more consistent with CEQA Guidelines in defining a project.

Section 21065 states:

"Project" means an activity which may cause either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment, and which is any of the following:

(a)  An activity directly undertaken by any public agency.

(b)  An activity undertaken by a person which is supported, in whole or in part, through contracts, grants, subsidies, loans, or other forms of assistance from one or more public agencies.

(c)  An activity that involves the issuance to a person of a lease, permit, license, certificate, or other entitlement for use by one or more public agencies.

Additionally, PRC 21080(a) clarifies the applicability of CEQA statute and approvals.

PRC 21080(a) states in part:

"Except as otherwise provided in this division, this division shall apply to discretionary projects proposed to be carried out or approved by public agencies..."

Once it is determined that the changes being approved constitute a CEQA project, the appropriate method of CEQA compliance must be considered. The following is a discussion of some different ways in which CEQA compliance can be accomplished. Please keep in mind that with each project there is a unique set of circumstances which will determine the appropriate method to reach CEQA compliance.

Changes and Existing CEQA Documents

In some situations there may be existing CEQA documentation, such as an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), or a Negative Declaration (ND) that adequately addresses the environmental concerns associated with the proposed changes. Only after carefully comparing the project description in the environmental document with the proposed changes, should it be determined that the analysis in the existing document adequately addresses or evaluates the effects associated with the changes.

If a previously developed document is being used to support the changes, the specific requirements to determine its adequacy are detailed in CEQA Guideline 15162 (Refer to the attachment for the full text of CCR 15162). In summary the criteria are as follows;

  • Substantial changes in the project,
  • Substantial changes to the circumstances under which the project is undertaken,
  • New information of substantial importance.

If a subsequent document is not required, an addendum to an existing document may be necessary. An addendum would be used to make minor changes or additions to the original environmental document. An addendum should be developed only if the criteria requiring subsequent documentation are found not to be applicable. CEQA Guideline 15164 describes aspects associated with an addendum (Refer to the attachment for the full text of CCR 15164).

Lead and Responsible Agencies

The Lead Agency is usually the agency with the first approval and/or broadest approval over a project (i.e. land use permit). If a public agency is carrying out a project they can be Lead Agency (i.e. an expansion of a county operated landfill). A Responsible Agency has a secondary and/or a more limited approval. There may be situations when a Responsible Agency may need to be the Lead Agency for a project. An example of how this might occur for a solid waste facility project is when a planning department determines that a local use permit is not required. In this case the Local Enforcement Agency (LEA) may find that they have the first and/or broadest approval over the project and would need to act as Lead Agency.

Changes and CEQA Exemption(s)

A lead agency may find that a change is exempt from CEQA analysis (See CEQA Guidelines 15061, and 15300 - 15329 regarding exemptions). The exemption determination and the supporting analysis leading to this determination must be included in the permit package submitted to CIWMB. The proposed Notice of Exemption, or the equivalent (for example a letter or memo containing information detailed in 15062[a][1,2,and 3]), should be used for this purpose. Please be advised that CIWMB, as a responsible agency in the CEQA process, may find the use of an exemption to be inappropriate if the record (permit package, inspection reports, previous CEQA documents, etc.) indicates that there may be potential significant impacts.

Changes and CEQA Analysis

If it is found that changes to the RFI or permit do not qualify for an exemption, then an initial study must be conducted to determine if a Negative Declaration, Mitigated Negative Declaration or an Environmental Impact Report needs to be developed. Any draft or proposed environmental document developed to support a permit approval must be circulated through the State Clearinghouse prior to adoption or certification by the lead agency.

Addressing CEQA Compliance Problems

Inappropriate or inadequate CEQA compliance for changes in design and operation can be avoided by encouraging lead agencies to request early involvement by all agencies with approvals over the project. This would assist the lead agency in developing adequate documentation for use by each agency in their project approval process.

The LEA and CIWMB, as responsible agencies, have several options available to them if they determine that an EIR or Negative Declaration is inadequate. The options are outlined in CCR 15096(e):

Decision on Adequacy of EIR or Negative Declaration. If a Responsible Agency believes that the final EIR or Negative Declaration prepared by the Lead Agency is not adequate for use by the Responsible Agency, the Responsible Agency must either:

(1)  Take the issue to court within 30 days after the Lead Agency files a Notice of Determination;

(2)  Be deemed to have waived any objection to the adequacy of the EIR or Negative Declaration;

(3)  Prepare a subsequent EIR if permissible under Section 15162; or

(4)  Assume the Lead Agency role as provided in Section 15052(a)(3).

The full text of CEQA Guidelines 15162 is found on page 3.

Section 15052(a) states:

(a)  Where a Responsible Agency is called on to grant an approval for a project subject to CEQA for which another public agency was the appropriate Lead Agency, the Responsible Agency shall assume the role of the Lead Agency when the following occur:

(1)  The Lead Agency did not prepare any environmental documents for the project, and the statute of limitations has expired for a challenge to the action of the appropriate Lead Agency.

(2)  The Lead Agency prepared environmental documents for the project, the following conditions occur:

(A)  Subsequent EIR is required pursuant to Section 15162,

(B)  The Lead Agency has granted a final approval for the project, and

(C)  The statute of limitations for challenging the Lead Agency action under CEQA has expired.

(3)  The Lead Agency prepared inadequate environmental documents without consulting the Responsible Agency as required by Sections 15072 or 15082, and the statute of limitations has expired for a challenge to the action of the appropriate Lead Agency.

Section 15072 details the noticing requirements for review of a Negative Declaration. Section 15082 describes the Notice of Preparation procedures for an EIR. To summarize, if an LEA or the CIWMB determine a CEQA document that has been certified or adopted by the decision-making body is inadequate to support the approval of changes in design or operation, they must either:

  • Litigate (15096[(e][1])
  • Accept the inadequate document (15096[e][2])
  • Prepare an addendum (15164, 15162)
  • Prepare a subsequent document (15096[e][3], 15162)
  • Assume the role of lead agency and prepare a new document (15096[e][4], 15052[a])

Please note that the CEQA Guidelines require that several factors must be present before a particular option is considered appropriate. The above cited CEQA Guidelines Sections should be consulted when determining which option is appropriate.


When addressing CEQA issues associated with approval of changes in design and operation an LEA should follow these general steps. First, define the changes in terms of a CEQA project (discretionary approval and will create a physical change to the environment). Second, determine the appropriate CEQA compliance method (exemption, existing documentation, subsequent documentation, new documentation). Third, if CEQA compliance is not adequate, take the needed steps to gain compliance prior to approval.

LEA staff are encouraged to contact the CIWMB's Environmental Review Section (ERS) staff for formal or informal consultation regarding CEQA compliance issues. ERS staff is available for consultation with lead agencies as well.


Original signed by:

Deputy Director
Permitting and Enforcement Division


Publication #232-95-006

The intent of the advisories is to provide guidance to Local Enforcement Agencies (LEA) in performing their duties. Guidance, for this purpose, is defined as providing explanation of the Board’s regulations and statutes.

Unless included by reference in the LEA's Enforcement Program Plan (EPP), advisories are not enforceable in the same manner as regulations because they have not been adopted through the formal rulemaking process (see Government Code sections 11340.5 and 11342.6). Advisories do not take precedence over statute or regulation.

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