State Environmental Quality Review Act Amendments Are in Full Effect

 
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Author: Johanna Duffy CWB®,Managing Environmental Scientist

State Environmental Quality Review Act Amendments Are in Full Effect

In the past year, articles hinted at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) implementing updates to modernize the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) regulations in 6 NYCRR Part 617. Although the NYSDEC formally adopted the updates in 2018, the revised regulations officially took effect January 1, 2019.

Below are highlights of the changes to the SEQRA regulations, referred to as the “2018 Amendments”.  Actions being considered in accordance with the SEQRA for which a determination of significance wasn’t issued prior to January 1, 2019, should follow these new regulations.

Definitions (6 NYCRR Part 617.2)

  • “Green infrastructure” was formally defined and includes the names of specific practices that meet this definition.

Type I Actions (6 NYCRR Part 617.4)

The Type I Action list remained relatively untouched. However, there are three significant modifications that should be noted:

  • Projects involving the connection of units to existing community or public water and sewerage systems, including sewage treatment work, received new thresholds involving the population of persons within the project site municipality and the number of units proposed for connection.

  • New Type I thresholds were added to projects involving parking, particularly for large increases in parking within smaller communities.

  • Changes for actions that potentially affect historic or cultural resources. Resources determined to be eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places should now be considered.    

Type II Actions (6 NYCRR Part 617.4)

A large focus of the amendments is the addition of actions to the Type II Action list. These project types were added to better streamline the SEQRA process since projects on the Type II list don’t require further SEQRA consideration. The added projects were determined to not have a significant impact on the environment. The new Type II actions list is extensive, each with their own individual caveats. As a general guideline they’re associated with the following types of activities:

  • Green infrastructure retrofits,

  • Upgrading buildings to meet energy codes,

  • Telecommunication cable installations,

  • Solar energy arrays installations,

  • Lot line adjustments,

  • Reuse of residential or commercial structures,

  • County Planning Board referrals,

  • Acquisition and dedication of parkland and conservation easements,

  • Transfers of land for 1-3 family housing,

  • Sale and conveyance of real property by public auction pursuant to Article 11 of the Real Property Tax Law, and

  • Anaerobic digesters at publically-owned landfills.

Scoping (6 NYCRR Part 617.8)

Some of the most noteworthy modifications to the SEQRA affect projects that result in a Positive Declaration, requiring the issuance of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  Scoping, a step completed early in the EIS process, is used to focus the Draft EIS on issues that have the potential to cause significant adverse impacts and to eliminate further discussion of topics that are found to be irrelevant or not significant.  This step used to be optional, but became a required component of the EIS process in the amendments (only Supplemental EIS’ are exempt).  Details of how and when to complete project scoping must be included in a project’s Positive Declaration.         

Preparation and Content of Environmental Impacts Statements (6 NYCRR Part 617.9)

This particular update addresses climate change. Consideration of measures to reduce an action’s impact on climate change and associated impacts is now required when preparing an EIS.More specifically, this modification includes two components: mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions that cause and contribute to climate change, and assessing a project’s vulnerability or resiliency to the effects of climate change.       

Document Preparation, Filing, Publication and Distribution (6 NYCRR Part 617.12)

There are 6 main adjustments that deal with how noticing and publishing requirements are followed during the EIS process:

  • Draft and final scopes must be published in the Environmental Notice Bulletin;

  • Additional hard copies of electronic documents must be provided to a local public library if sufficient copies of the EIS are not available to meet public interest;

  • The EIS in hard copy or electronic format must be sent to the NYSDEC Division of Environmental Permits in Albany;

  • Draft and final scope (and draft and final EIS’) are to be published on a publicly accessible website;

  • Website posting may be discontinued one-year after all necessary federal, state, and local permits have been issued, or the action is funded or undertaken, whichever is later; and

  • Printed filings and notices should clearly indicate the website address used for posting.

Environmental Assessment Forms (6 NYCRR Part 617.204)

Similar to other adjustments, wording changes were also applied to short and full environmental assessment forms (EAFs) to make them consistent with the other amendments.  Additional resource updates to the EAF Workbooks released by the NYSDEC during the 2013 modifications are also on the way. The updated EAFs can be found on the NYSDEC’s website: https://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/6191.html.

If you have any questions about the most recent revisions to the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or how to successfully steer an action through the review process, give our knowledgeable staff a call at 315-457-5200.  More information concerning the NYSDEC’s 2018 Amendments can be found here: https://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/83389.html.

Lucia ForteEnvironmental