The wait is over. After promising updates to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) since 2012 and pushing back the release date several times, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) has finally published the final version of the updated regulations. These updates are the first change to the law in over twenty years. You can view a previous article here.
“DEC is always looking for ways to make our agency more efficient and effective for the nearly 20 million New Yorkers that depend on us to protect our natural resources,” said Basil Seggos, the DEC Commissioner. “DEC’s updates to SEQRA will streamline the environmental review process and encourage sustainable development and renewable development without sacrificing SEQRA’s integrity or the environmental protection it affords.”
Echoing Seggos’ sentiments, the new regulations include three changes to the list of actions (known as Type I actions) that are likely to require preparation of an environmental impact statement (“EIS”). These changes include lowering the Type I threshold for construction of new residential units, creating a Type I parking threshold for smaller communities, and modifying the thresholds for actions affecting historic resources. In addition, scoping is now mandatory, except for supplemental EISs. Finally, all EISs now require consideration of measures to avoid or reduce an action’s potential impact on climate-induced conditions, such as increased greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise, and flooding. These revisions will transform the SEQRA process from a “snapshot” review of the action at one point in time, to an evolving anticipation of future issues in relation to climate change.
Of particular note, DEC has also greatly expanded the number of actions that are exempt from further review (known as Type II actions). Examples of added and/or revised Type II actions include:
- Upgrades of buildings to meet energy codes
- Green infrastructure upgrades and retrofits
- Installation of telecommunications cables
- Installation of solar energy arrays on certain sites where the installation affects 25 acres or less of land disturbance
- 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 one, two, and three family housing
- Sales and conveyances of real property by public auction under Article 11 of the Real Property Tax Law
- Construction and operation of anaerobic digesters at publically-owned landfills
From this list, it is clear that these additions will help advance the State’s sustainable development initiatives, lofty renewable energy and clean energy goals, and increased need for affordable housing.
The final regulations will go into effect on January 1, 2019. DEC also plans to revise its SEQRA Handbook and Workbooks on this date. In addition, DEC plans to offer training sessions for lead agencies to ensure that they fully understand the new changes. Until then, developers, municipalities, and New York State citizens alike are cautioned to thoroughly review the new regulations to determine how the revisions will affect the SEQRA process they have grown accustomed to over the past two decades.
To read the new regulations in their entirety, click here.
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