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Environment Committee Alert

Contact: Darren Suarez
July 29, 2011

The Cuomo Administration is attempting remove barriers to new investment and job growth as part of its economic development initiatives, and among other things, is an effort at reforms to the state environmental quality review act (SEQRA).

As a first step, the DEC last spring proposed updates to the long and short environmental assessment forms for the first time in over two decades. The draft forms are longer and explicitly address several new topics, including environmental justice, traffic impacts, energy use and greenhouse gas impacts.

Additionally, DEC has expanded the short form to encourage more use of the short form for unlisted actions. Unlisted actions comprise about seventy-five percent of the actions reviewed under SEQRA. Local governments often use the long form because the existing short form is deemed too cursory to be useful. The DEC believes that the expanded short forms will help streamline the SEQRA process by providing a sufficient overview of additional projects and avoiding the need for environmental impact statements.

The administration is now seeking input on streamlining of SEQRA regulations and implementation. The DEC has shared some initial reform proposals to potentially interested organizations and individuals for early, informal review and comment before DEC proceeds with more formal, fully-noticed public review and comments. Discussions have focused upon amendments to the process that can occur without the need for statutory changes.

The Business Council is interested in hearing from its members about amendments that could streamline the process.

The Business Council has already had some discussions with the administration regarding administrative and/or legislative action to help amend the SEQRA process. A memo prepared by The Business Council, that outlines a number of ways that the state’s environmental approval process for new facilities can be improved is available here.

In addition to your reactions to the memo, The Business Council would like your input on the following SEQRA regulatory reforms.

1) Are there actions that are contained on the current Type I list which should be removed from the Type I list? Should specific current Type I categories/thresholds be modified (i.e. parking for 1,000 vehicles, any structure exceeding 100 feet)?

2) Are there actions that currently are not contained on the list of Type II actions that should be included because they would have no significant impact on the environment? Or the action is appropriately reviewed as part of another action, which is subject to a SEQRA “like” process?

3) Should scoping of action be mandatory? In practice, does scoping make the SEQRA review process more efficient and/or more focused? What could be done to make the scoping process a more useful one for project sponsors?

4) Should additional resources and means for cost recovery be provided to lead agencies to encourage the use of GEIS, or to educate municipal officials? The current practice, allows lead agencies to prepare GEISs and charge the cost back to later applicants who seek approval for projects covered by the GEISs, leaves the lead agency without resources upfront.

5) What can be done to help small communities manage the SEQRA process more efficiently? What resources could be made available to improve local government’s involvement in SEQRA reviews?

6) Should additional timelines be imposed on the SEQRA process; if so, on what components?