Public agencies are entrusted with compliance with CEQA. A public agency having authority to approve or disapprove a project is designated the CEQA Lead Agency, and is responsible for complying with CEQA for that project.
Compliance with CEQA is usually undertaken in a three-step process. In the first step, the Lead Agency determines if the action being considered is a “project” under CEQA. If the project is deemed to be a project, the Lead Agency then determines if the project is exempt from CEQA. If the project is not exempt from CEQA, the Lead Agency determines whether the project is likely to result in a significant impact on the environment that cannot be mitigated to a less than significant level (often by completing a CEQA checklist). If the answer to that question is yes, the Lead Agency must prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). If it is no, they may prepare an Initial Study/Negative Declaration (IS/ND) or Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration (IS/MND).
CEQA is a self-executing statute. Compliance with CEQA is enforced, as necessary, by the public through litigation or the threat of litigation. While the Natural Resources Agency is charged with the adoption of CEQA Guidelines, it is each public agency's duty to determine what is and is not subject to CEQA. As such, the Natural Resources Agency does not review the facts and exercise of discretion by public agencies in individual situations. In sum, the Agency does not enforce CEQA, nor does it review for compliance with CEQA the many state and local agency actions that are subject to CEQA. CEQA’s implementation falls largely on state and local governments, and special districts.