NYSDEC Makes Major Update to State’s Environmental Quality Review Regulations

 

For the first time in more than 20 years, the State has made a major update to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQR”) regulations.  NYSDEC Commissioner Basil Seggos announced on June 28 that his agency adopted a rulemaking package with changes intended to preserve the integrity of the regulations and streamline the environmental review process.  The updates go into effect on January 1, 2019.

The changes are meant to encourage sustainable development and renewable energy development within the State.

According to the Commissioner’s announcement, the updates will expand the number of existing Type II SEQR actions.  That’s big news for those who deal with SEQR.  Type II actions are actions that are deemed not to have significant adverse impacts on the environment, or are actions that are statutorily exempted from SEQR review.  Unlike other potential actions, they do not require preparation of an environmental assessment form, a negative or positive declaration, or an environmental impact statement (“EIS”), all of which can take time to consider and prepare.

According to NYSDEC’s press release, updated Type II actions will include:

  • green infrastructure upgrades or retrofits;
  • installation of solar arrays on closed landfills, cleaned-up brownfield sites;
  • wastewater treatment facilities, sites zoned for industrial use, or solar canopies on residential and commercial parking facilities;
  • installation of solar arrays on an existing structure not listed on the National or State Register of Historic Places;
  • reuse of a residential or commercial structure, or structure containing mixed residential and commercial uses;
  • acquisition and dedication of parkland;
  • land transfers in connection with one, two or three family housing; and
  • construction and operation of certain anaerobic digesters at operating publicly owned landfills.

Clarifying that these actions are considered Type II helps streamline their implementation because they will not require further review under SEQR.

The updates also will modify thresholds for SEQR actions deemed more likely to require the preparation of an EIS and require scoping of an EIS.  Additionally, an EIS may require consideration of measures to avoid or reduce an action’s impact on climate change-induced conditions such as sea level rise and flooding.

NYSDEC states that the final rules will be available on its website and noticed in both the Environmental Notice Bulletin and the State Register on July 18.  The agency also expects to release an update to its popular SEQR Handbook and SEQR workbooks later this year and plans to provide training for lead agencies regarding the updates.

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