In creating the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the California legislature recognized the limited capacity of the environment and found that the government must “take immediate steps to identify any critical thresholds for health and safety of the people of the state and take all coordinated actions necessary to prevent such thresholds being reached.”

To prevent such thresholds from being reached, CEQA requires all agencies of the state government which regulate activities of private individuals and corporations to require an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prior to the commencement of a project.  CEQA requires that every “project” that does not fall within an “exemption” or qualify for a “negative declaration” must complete an EIR before implementation.

Petition for Writ of Mandate

CEQA allows for a Petition for Writ of Mandate to be filed in the California Superior Court  by a “beneficially interested” party to initiate a lawsuit requesting review of an agency’s decision not to require an EIR before commencement of a project.  All that these suits accomplish is that they require cities to complete an EIR before enacting a plastic bag ban.  However, since EIRs are often prohibitively expensive, the suits effectively eliminate many local plastic bag bans.

With regard to plastic bag ordinances, petitions for Writs of Mandate have been filed by groups associated with the plastic bag manufacturing industry claiming that municipalities must prepare an EIR before the implementation of a plastic bag ban.