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- New York Revises SEQRA Assessment Forms to Focus on Public Transportation, Energy Use and Smart Growth
New York Revises SEQRA Assessment Forms to Focus on Public Transportation, Energy Use and Smart Growth
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has updated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) long and short environmental assessment forms for the first time in over two decades. These forms are used by state agencies, counties and municipalities to assess environmental impacts of actions and determine whether a full environmental impact statement is necessary under SEQRA. Besides having a substantially new format, the forms are longer and address several new topics that will result in a more robust and often quantitative assessment of traffic impacts, public transportation, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions. The forms also include more specific questions addressing land use approval actions, which are among the most common actions reviewed by municipalities, and would also eliminate the separate visual assessment form.
The short-form environmental assessment, which may be appropriate for agencies’ evaluation of “unlisted” SEQRA actions, now includes questions such as:
- Will the proposed action result in a substantial increase in traffic levels above present levels?
- Does the proposed action maximize use of energy efficient design or include use of onsite renewable energy technologies?
The long-form environmental assessment, which is more routinely used by agencies and is required for agencies’ evaluation of “Type I” SEQRA actions, goes further than the short-form and now requires some quantitative assessment of energy, traffic and GHG impacts. For example, the long-form requires quantification of:
- Estimated tons per year of various air pollutants, including carbon dioxide;
- Estimated new vehicle trips, including average trips per hour, maximum trips per hour, and the total yearly trips;
- The estimated number of jobs to be created and eliminated by the action, during construction and operation; and
- The distance to and type and frequency of public transportation.
The form also requires information on environmental justice and more detail on energy use and energy efficiency, including the requirement to describe any energy conservation designs or practices incorporated into the proposed action.
Developments in environmental law and SEQRA practice over the past twenty years have driven the changes to the SEQRA forms, including three specific developments:
First, in July 2009 the Department of Environmental Conservation issued its Guide for Assessing Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in an Environmental Impact Statement, which provides guidance in determining when to evaluate climate change impacts and whether to include quantitative or qualitative analysis. The guidance strongly encourages agencies to adopt mitigation measures that reduce energy use, select locations near public transportation and utilize green-building designs.
Second, also in 2009 New York enacted the State Green Building Construction Act, which requires all agencies to incorporate green-building designs for new construction and major renovations of public buildings. The Office of General Services is overseeing implementation of the new law, which applies as of August 2010. New York City and other municipalities have similar laws, some of which also impose green-building requirements on the private sector.
Third, New York passed the Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act last summer. This new law requires certain state agencies to avoid taking actions that are inconsistent with New York’s smart growth goals, which include utilizing and improving existing infrastructure, developing within urbanized areas, protecting open space and farmland, providing access to public transportation, and coordinating planning among state, local, and regional entities.
The comment period on the new SEQRA forms has been extended through April 8, 2011.
Questions regarding this advisory should be addressed to Christopher Rizzo (212-238-8677, firstname.lastname@example.org).
 N.Y. Public Bldgs. L. Article 4-C (“Green Buildings”).
 N.Y. Envtl. Cons. L. Article 6 (“Smart Growth”).
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