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Proposed SEQRA Amendments Reflect State’s Environmental Agenda
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 parking threshold.
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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