In August 2020, California Supreme Court addressed the circumstances under which a public agency may characterize the issuance of well construction permits as “ministerial,” and hence not subject to California Environmental Quality Act, versus “discretionary,” in which case CEQA applies.

Under CEQA, ministerial approvals are those that involve little or no discretion, merely apply a checklist or clear requirements to the facts as presented and are often issued over-the-counter by county staff. In contrast, discretionary approvals are those that involve judgment or deliberation, allow a county to use discretion to decide whether to issue the approvals and how best to shape or condition those approvals to avoid environmental issues and are often issued by an appointed or elected decision-making body. CEQA review only applies to discretionary approvals.