The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has
proposed the first changes to the State Environmental Quality
Review Act ("SEQRA") regulations since 1996. The
proposed amendments fall into three categories: clarifying
scoping and contents of an environmental impact statement; lowering
the threshold for actions to qualify as Type I actions; and adding
new Type II categories to reflect principles of smart growth and
green building design.
Scoping is the process through which a state or local agency
solicits public comments on the contents of an environmental impact
statement. Although most agencies undertake scoping for large
projects, it is currently discretionary under SEQRA. The
amendments would make scoping mandatory. At the same time,
however, the regulations would lessen the burden of preparing an
environmental impact statement by clarifying that the document
should only address the environmental categories (e.g., air,
traffic, preservation) in which agencies identify the potential for
significant environmental impacts.
A Type I action "carries with it the presumption that it is
likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment and
may require" an environmental impact statement. The
proposed amendments would set lower thresholds for new residential
units and parking spaces to fall into Type I categories. For
example, 500 (as opposed to 1,000) new residential units in a city
of 150,000 to 1,000,000 persons would now qualify as a Type I
action. And 1,000 parking spaces in a city of 150,000 or more
would qualify as a Type I action; previously there was no similar
Type II actions presumptively require no review under
SEQRA. The amended Type II list would include certain projects
within existing municipal centers. For example, construction
of 20 residential units or fewer in a "municipal center"
of a municipality of 20,000 to 50,000 persons would qualify as a
Type II action. This puts SEQRA more in line with the
State's smart growth principles, which aim to incentivize
construction in already-urbanized areas. Type II actions would
also include rooftop solar arrays of 25 megawatts or less.
Comments on the scoping document for the environmental impact
statement for the amendments are due by Friday, August 10,
2012. The scoping document omits, however, some important
amendment language, including the definition of "municipal
center." The Department will present more detailed
regulatory language in the forthcoming draft environmental impact
statement for the amendments, which will also be subject to public
comment later this year.
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