The Business Council opposes this legislation that would require environmental impact statements to consider the "cumulative impact" of proposed projects.
Bill Summary: Many of the categories of actions that would be subject to "cumulative impact" assessment under A.1328 are already subject to review under the state environmental quality review act. Existing state regulations (6 NYCRR Part 617) already prohibit the segmentation of projects. Likewise, the Court of Appeal's - in its Pine Barrens decision - has determined that SEQRA applies to individual projects that are part of a master plan.
Therefore, the major change being proposed in A.1328 is that potential environmental impacts of a project be considered "together with one or more pending or proposed actions" if they may affect the same environmental resource.
Business Council Position: The Business Council finds this provision to be unreasonable from both a policy and implementation perspective.
First, it would be unreasonable and impractical to require project sponsors to consider other "pending" or "proposed" projects as part of their SEQRA review. This would require a project sponsor to assess potential projects regardless of how likely they are to move forward. Further, as written, this provision would also require consideration of projects that are proposed after the initial project has entered into the SEQRA process.
Considering SEQRA's existing definition of an "action," at most this provision should address projects that are already being sponsored, reviewed or funded by an agency.
Second, since this legislation does not establish any sequence for the consideration of cumulative impacts, every project currently pending before an agency, and having a potential impact on the same resource, will be required to conduct simultaneous cumulative impact assessments. Such an outcome would obviously result in considerable duplication of effort and waste of resources.
Likewise, since there is no way for a project sponsor to access impact assessment data being prepared by other parties regarding other potential projects, it is unclear how the sponsor could develop realistic impact assessments. One consequence of this bill would be that each project sponsor will be required to develop, at their own expense, environmental impact assessment data on all other "pending or proposed actions" that may affect the same environmental resources as their own projects.
Third, the legislation fails to address the key issue of mitigation responsibilities in the event that a significant "cumulative impact" is indicated in the SEQRA assessment. Currently under SEQRA, a project sponsor is required to mitigate the impact of its project to the extent practicable. In contrast, A.1328 fails to establish criteria for the parceling out of mitigation requirements. This is an important issue, since the bill will affect projects that make a minor contribution to a significant "cumulative impact," and whose direct impact may be environmentally insignificant.
Summary: The Business Council believes that the issue of evaluating cumulative environmental and quality of life impacts are most efficiently addressed through the local planning process, rather than through project-by-project SEQRA reviews. The Business Council does not believe that SEQRA should be used to require a project-specific environmental impact statement to serve as a functional substitute for comprehensive planning. Therefore, for these reasons, The Business Council respectfully opposes adoption of A.1328.