Changes to SEQRA: What You Need to Know
Author: Johanna Duffy, CWB
Under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process (6 NYCRR Part 617), the environmental significance of all proposed actions must be considered by state and local government agencies whenever they are going to approve, fund, or directly undertake an action. In most cases, completion of Environmental Assessment Forms (EAFs) will be required to determine whether proposed actions may have a significant adverse impact on the environment.
You have probably heard by now that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has adopted new "Short" and "Full" Environmental Assessment Forms. These revised forms became effective on October 7, 2013, and are required to be used going forward. If, however, Part 1 of a Short or Full EAF (SEAF or FEAF) was submitted to a reviewing agency (or lead agency) before the October 7th date, the review may proceed using Parts 2 and 3 of the old (pre-October 7, 2013) Environmental Assessment Forms.
Objectives of the new EAFs include capturing more details earlier in project progression, clarifying the significance evaluation process, simplifying the form completion process, and improving access to requisite data. To aid in the latter two objectives, the NYSDEC has issued a SEAF/FEAF Workbook to assist in EAF preparation. This web-based tool provides background information on the SEQRA process, instructions on how to complete the forms, and additional links to maps and illustrations. This Workbook is not a manual for the SEQRA process, but may be useful to guide and assist when completing the new EAFs for Unlisted and Type I Actions. The NYSDEC also has plans to release an EAF Mapper web tool to further assist in the completion of Part 1 of both EAFs. To-date, this EAF mapper tool is not yet available on the internet.
So what has changed on the Environmental Assessment Forms? Both the SEAF and FEAF now ask the preparer to determine whether a proposed action involves only the legislative adoption of a plan, ordinance, local law, administrative rule, or regulation. In such cases, the EAFs require the input of less information, as many of the location-specific questions do not have to be answered. The SEAF itself has been expanded from 2 to 4 pages and includes a revised Part 2 that better allows for the evaluation of potential impacts. The NYSDEC anticipates that the SEAF will now be used more frequently for Unlisted Actions because of the greater depth and additional list of questions.
New topics addressed in the SEAF include (but are not limited to):
State energy code
Hazardous material remediation
Human health hazards
The more detailed FEAF is designed specifically for Type I Actions and has been expanded from 21 pages to 25 pages. This revised form consists of seven sections (A through G) that deal with topics such as project and sponsor information, planning and zoning details, as well as site and environmental setting facts. Parts 2 and 3 of the FEAF are to be completed by the Lead Agency or their designated agent, and still revolve around evaluating and determining the significance of the proposed action. As with the SEAF, the FEAF requests expanded information on an array of topics. These new areas include (but are not limited to):
Existing community services
Excavation, mining, dredging
Demand for water
Air and methane emission estimates
What do all these changes mean? Ultimately, the revised EAFs request more detailed information earlier on in the SEQRA process, which will require additional time to complete. New areas of concern have been added to the forms for review and consideration, in the hope that potential mitigation measures may be a focus earlier in a project’s progression.
While these forms have been re-designed for ease and simplicity, and the 300-page Workbook may prove to be a somewhat helpful tool, B&L’s seasoned SEQRA professionals are available to help you make the correct determinations and expedite the review process. B&L’s SEQRA experts can assist with EAF completion, action classification, the coordinated review process, development of draft resolutions, determinations of significance, environmental impact statements, and everything else in between. Please contact us for more information on the SEQRA EAF changes or to discuss the SEQRA process as it relates to any of your projects.