Environmental Impact Assessment in New York State
In New York State, most projects or activities proposed by a state agency or unit of local government, and all discretionary approvals (permits) from a NYS agency or unit of local government, require an environmental impact assessment as prescribed by 6 NYCRR Part 617 State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) (link leaves DEC website.) [Statutory authority: Environmental Conservation Law Sections 3-0301(1)(b), 3-0301(2)(m) and 8-0113]. SEQR requires the sponsoring or approving governmental body to identify and mitigate the significant environmental impacts of the activity it is proposing or permitting.
Environmental assessments are standardized through use of the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF). The Environmental Assessment Forms are in a pdf format that can be filled and saved. To assist applicants in preparing the Part 1 of either the Short or Full EAF, we have developed EAF Workbooks and a GIS mapping program (the EAF Mapper) that searches spatial data bases and provides answers to location-based questions which are automatically filled onto a pdf copy of an EAF and provided to the user. The spatial data used by the EAF mapping program to complete the new EAFs is based on the GIS data sets used and maintained by DEC, or actively maintained by various agencies and shared with DEC.
On completing an EAF, the lead agency determines the significance of an action's environmental impacts. The agency then decides whether to require (or prepare) an Environmental Impact Statement and whether to hold a public hearing on the proposed action.
Who Enforces SEQR
What agency enforces SEQR?
The Legislature has made SEQR self-enforcing; that is, each agency of government is responsible to see that it meets its own obligations to comply.
While the Department of Environmental Conservation is charged with issuing regulations regarding the SEQR process, DEC has no authority to review the implementation of SEQR by other agencies. In other words, there are no "SEQR Police."
What happens if an agency does not comply with SEQR?
If an agency makes an improper decision or allows a project that is subject to SEQR to start, and fails to undertake a proper review, citizens or groups who can demonstrate that they may be harmed by this failure may take legal action against the agency under Article 78 of the New York State Civil Practice Law and Rules. Project approvals may be rescinded by a court and a new review required under SEQR. New York State's court system has consistently ruled in favor of strong compliance with the provisions of SEQR (see also case law to be posted later).
How does DEC assist agencies in implementing the SEQR process?
DEC provides informal interpretations and guidance about the conduct of SEQR. These informal interpretations are based on the experience of DEC staff. DEC, however, cannot provide formal legal opinions about the conduct of SEQR by other agencies. State and local agencies and other interested parties should consult with their own legal counsel for formal interpretations of SEQR law and regulations.
More about SEQR:
- Introduction to SEQR - New York's State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) requires all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making
- Stepping Through the SEQR Process - A step-by-step guide to the SEQR process
- SEQR Handbook - Since it first appeared in March 1982, the SEQR Handbook has been a standard reference book for state, county and local government officials; environmental consultants; attorneys; permit applicants; and the public
- State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) Forms - Short Environmental Assessment Form; Full Environmental Assessment Form; Notice of Complete Draft EIS/ Final EIS; Notice of Completion of Draft EIS and Notice of SEQR Hearing; SEQR Findings Form; ENB SEQR Notice Publication Form
- Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) Workbooks - Instructions, background information, links to maps and illustrations, and additional guidance for completing the EAF forms
- SEQR Publications - Publications pertaining to State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR)
- "EIS on the Web" Requirement - A 2005 amendment to SEQR requires every EIS , Draft EIS and Final EIS to be posted on a publicly accessible internet Web site
- SEQR Regulatory Documents - Information on the development of the new SEQR regulations and forms
- Critical Environmental Areas - Local agencies may designate specific geographic areas within their boundaries as Critical Environmental Areas (CEAs). State agencies may also designate geographic areas they own, manage or regulate.
- Commissioner Decisions on Lead Agency Disputes - In a coordinated review under SEQR, there are times when the involved agencies are not able to agree which one of them will become the lead agency. When this happens, any of the involved agencies or the project sponsor can request the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation to designate a lead agency.