On July 11, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) released the draft scope for the Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) on proposed amendments to the regulations that implement the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). These amendments, intended to streamline the SEQRA process, would create a number of significant changes to the regulations, the first changes since 1996.
Among the proposed changes are to require public scoping of all Environmental Impact Statements (EIS). Currently this is not mandatory. Making the process mandatory recognizes the importance of public scoping as a tool to focus an EIS on key substantive and significant issues. In addition, there would be an automatic completion provision to the final EIS review process under certain circumstances. If the final EIS is not prepared within the 180-day period for completion, the EIS will be deemed complete on the basis of the draft EIS, public comment and the response to comments prepared and submitted by the project sponsor to the lead agency. This provision extends review periods and provides certainty for when the EIS process ends.
In addition, a lengthy expansion of the list of Type II actions (actions not subject to SEQRA) is proposed which includes:
- minor subdivisions;
- recommendations of a county or regional planning entity following a referral pursuant to General Municipal Law sections 239-m or 239-n;
- a number of actions that encourage development in urban areas verses development in greenfields;
- actions encouraging the installation of solar energy arrays;
- and actions that allow for the sale, lease or transfer of property for a Type II action.
The proposed amendments also show NYSDEC’s embrace of the electronic age by allowing for electronic filing of EIS’s with NYSDEC and attempt to rectify problems associated with project sponsor uncertainty regarding the costs of SEQRA review by the lead agency and its consultants, by requiring that a lead agency provide a project sponsor with an estimate of the review cost by the lead agency and/or its consultants, if requested.
The proposed changes, if enacted, would be the first amendment to the SEQRA regulations since 1996, and come on the heels of a number of other recent changes to SEQRA including the introduction of new, model short and long Environmental Assessment Forms that become effective as of October 1, 2012, and the release of a new SEQRA Handbook in 2010.
To maximize the opportunity for public participation, NYSDEC is using the GEIS to discuss the objectives and rationale for the amendments and present alternative measures under consideration. Comments on the draft scope will be accepted in writing or by email through August 10, 2012.
Written comments should be submitted to:
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Division of Environmental Permits & Pollution Prevention
Albany, New York 12233-1750
Or emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, "Comments on Part 617 Draft Scope."
Jennifer M. Porter is a Director in the Gibbons Real Property & Environmental Department.