H. Generic EISs
In This Section You Will Learn:
- what is a generic EIS;
- when is a generic EIS required; and,
- how is the content of a generic EIS different from the content of a site specific EIS.
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1. What is a Generic EIS?
A generic EIS is a type of EIS that is typically used to consider broad-based actions or related groups of actions that agencies may approve, fund, or directly undertake. A generic EIS can examine the environmental impacts of:
- A number of separate actions in a geographic area, such as several petitions to rezone residential areas to commercial;
- A sequence of actions by an agency or project sponsor, such as a zoning change, followed by road improvement, followed by the construction of a shopping mall;
- Separate actions having common impacts, such as several separate projects impacting the same groundwater aquifer; or
- Programs or plans that have wide application or restrict the range of future alternative policies, such as comprehensive plans, resource management plans, local land use laws and ordinances, or agency regulations and permit programs.
2. How does a generic EIS differ from a site or project-specific EIS?
A generic EIS differs from a site or project specific EIS by being more general or conceptual in nature. The broader focus of a generic EIS may aid the lead agency in identifying and broadly analyzing the cumulative impacts of a group of actions, or a combination of impacts from a single action. Generic EISs may identify information gaps to be assessed on a site- or project-specific basis, or may address some issues through hypothetical scenarios.
3. What are some characteristics of a generic EIS?
A generic EIS typically has one or more of the following characteristics:
- It may be a short, broad, or generalized discussion of the setting, background and rationale for the proposed action;
- It may provide a conceptual basis for general projections concerning future activity;
- It may identify important elements of the natural resource base of the study area, as well as significant features, patterns or character relating to human use of the study area;
- It may present and analyze, in general terms, a few hypothetical scenarios that are likely to occur as a result of a planning or zoning action;
- It may discuss, in general terms, the constraints and consequences of narrowing future options; or
- It may provide supporting background documentation for sound environmental planning.
4. Are there specific analyses for which a generic EIS may be appropriate?
A generic EIS may be useful to:
- Account for cumulative impacts, regional influences, or secondary effects of an overall program or group of actions;
- Allow evaluation of actions being proposed by unrelated project sponsors which may have similar impacts on the same resources (such as multiple new homes adjoining the same wetland);
- Enable early consideration of mitigation and alternatives, at a stage in the planning process when there is greater flexibility;
- Provide public disclosure of agency considerations used in environmental decision-making;
- Limit extent of future project reviews by providing early guidance on significance determinations;
- Set forth conditions, criteria or thresholds to guide future site-specific actions that may be undertaken; or
- Establish baseline data for reference and scoping of supplemental site-specific EISs, thus avoiding duplication, reducing costs and paperwork.
5. Are there specific types of actions for which generic EISs are more typically prepared?
Generic EISs are more typically prepared for the following types of activities:
- comprehensive plans;
- resource management plans;
- area wide zoning;
- changes to, or adoption of, regulations or local laws and ordinances;
- planned unit developments or planned development districts;
- phased development of residential subdivisions, or industrial and commercial parks; or
- development of a broad geographic area.
6. Who prepares a generic EIS?
When a generic EIS applies to one or more direct actions undertaken by an agency, then that agency would prepare the generic EIS. For actions such as zoning changes, the reviewing agency may also be the best entity to prepare the generic EIS. However, single applicants, multiple project sponsors, or representative organizations proposing an entire group of related projects or project phases, could be responsible for generic EIS preparation.
7. When may a generic EIS be preferable to a site or project-specific EIS?
Agencies that frequently undertake, fund or approve actions that are essentially similar in nature and effect may find that a generic EIS, which addresses those repetitive actions, may save work by reducing the need for individual EISs or negative declarations. Similarly, a generic EIS may be appropriate when an agency is considering a new, or substantially revised plan, program or policy, that will affect a wide range of resources or geographic areas, and for which an exploration of a range of mitigation measures that would work in various circumstances is needed. A generic EIS may also be the most effective way for an agency to assess potential significant cumulative impacts from a number of small projects that individually do not have a significant impact on the environment.
For project sponsors, a generic EIS may be helpful to discuss important preliminary issues prior to the investment of money and time in engineering plans or detail. For example, if rezoning is required for a specific project and the result of that decision could reshape the project, a generic EIS addressing issues and impacts related to alternative site uses, may allow decisions about appropriate uses of the site to be made early enough so that it is still feasible for the sponsor to modify the initial plans.
8. Do generic EISs require different procedures than other EISs?
The basic procedures are the same for all EISs. After the lead agency has issued a positive declaration to require a generic EIS, it may conduct scoping. The lead agency must then prepare and accept the draft generic EIS; allow a public review period, possibly including a hearing; prepare and accept the final generic EIS; and, finally, issue findings based on the final generic EIS. Noticing and filing requirements for generic EISs are the same as for other types of EISs.
9. Should generic EISs include elements not typically found in a site or project specific EIS?
Yes. Consideration of three additional factors may be appropriate when preparing a generic EIS. These additional factors are:
- Hypothetical scenarios as alternatives that could occur under the proposed generic action, including evaluation of all reasonable alternatives that could achieve the objectives of the project sponsor.
- Thresholds and conditions that would trigger the need for supplemental determinations of significance or site-specific EISs.
- A preliminary scope of the environmental issues which would need to be addressed in any supplemental EISs prepared after the original generic EIS.
10. How should a generic EIS address required content differently than a site or project specific EIS?
The fundamental elements of a generic EIS are basically the same as for a site or project-specific EIS. However, several of the standard elements should be treated somewhat differently than in a conventional EIS:
- Environmental Setting
- Significant Environmental Impacts (including short-term, long-term, cumulative and secondary)
- Alternatives to Proposed Action
A generic EIS often addresses actions at the conceptual stage, so, therefore, there is flexibility when developing and analyzing alternatives. The consideration of alternatives at the conceptual stage should be sufficiently broad ranging that the resulting generic EIS will support a range of future agency choices and decisions. Because potential future site-specific actions following a generic EIS are often speculative or unknown, potential impacts of those future uses are often best discussed in terms of hypothetical scenarios. For example, alternatives that could be examined in a generic EIS for a comprehensive plan update and zoning revisions, might include:
- different patterns or mixes of zoning within the study area; and
- a range of uses within a zone, including the most likely course of development as well as the most intensive use.
- Proposed Mitigation
- The establishment of performance standards, conditions or impact thresholds which could apply to future site or project specific reviews. An agency could require submission of stormwater management plans with site-specific project applications, including criteria relating to run-off, retention or disposal. Similarly, in an area where public water supply and waste water treatment are not available, an agency could consider maximum allowable residential densities to control cumulative impacts on a groundwater aquifer.
- Careful timing or phasing of development. For projects involving stream disturbances, the agency should consider timing of in-water work so as to avoid critical fish migration periods. Where future development will require substantial land clearing, the agency should consider work sequences and schedules that would minimize acreage cleared at any one time and ensure construction of stormwater management features in advance of other construction activities.
- Monitoring. An agency may require monitoring of specific impacts (air, water, traffic, etc.) during construction or operation of the multiple projects or phases addressed by the generic EIS, to ensure that cumulative thresholds established in the generic EIS are not exceeded.
- Growth-Inducing Aspects of the Action
- attracting significant increases in the local population by creating or relocating employment, with attendant increase in the demands for support services and facilities, which may be necessary to serve the working population (housing, stores, public services, etc.); or
- increasing the development potential for a local area by installing or upgrading sewers, water mains, or other utilities.
11. Should hearings be held on draft generic EISs?
While not required under SEQR, public hearings may be an important part of the generic EIS process for the following reasons:
- The proposal being evaluated by a generic EIS may affect a broad geographic area or a wide range of people;
- Members of the public can be a primary source for identifying the community service and human resource impacts of a generic action; and
- Public participation is often a required component of review of the kinds of direct actions by public agencies which are typically addressed by generic EISs.
It is important that the lead agency clarify the intent of a generic EIS to the public before receiving comments. This will avoid inappropriate requests for site-specific information on a conceptual document.
12. What content should be included in a final generic EIS?
As with any other final EIS, a final generic EIS must include the draft generic EIS, with any revisions; all comments received on the draft; and the lead agency's responses to all substantive comments raised during the review of the draft. The final generic EIS should identify those environmental issues for which supplemental determinations of significance or supplemental EISs will be required. While a final generic EIS should not be expected to resolve all site-specific issues, some may be discussed and concluded to be non-significant in specific situations.
13. Are supplemental EISs always required following generic EISs?
The course of action following a final generic EIS will depend on the level of detail within the generic EIS, as well as the specific follow up actions being considered. A lead agency considering a subsequent action must evaluate the generic EIS to determine whether the subsequently proposed action was not addressed, or inadequately addressed, in the generic EIS, and whether the subsequent action is likely to have one or more significant adverse environmental impacts. If significant adverse impacts of the subsequent action are identified, and they were not adequately addressed in the generic EIS, then a site- or project-specific supplemental EIS must be prepared. Many generic EISs and Findings identify the environmental issues or thresholds that would trigger the need for such a supplement.
However, if the lead agency determines that the final generic EIS adequately addresses all potential significant adverse impacts of the subsequently proposed action, then no supplemental EIS is necessary.
14. How should an agency document its decision whether or not to supplement a final generic EIS?
If an agency determines that a supplemental EIS should be required, it must issue a positive declaration identifying the significant adverse environmental impacts not adequately addressed in the generic EIS. If, however, an agency determines that no supplemental EIS is necessary, it may still need to make supplemental findings, based on the generic EIS, to address the subsequently proposed action. Even if the agency concludes that no supplemental findings are necessary, it is still good practice to document the consideration in the agency's files.
15. What should be considered in preparing supplements to generic EISs?
When developing a supplement to a generic EIS, the lead agency for the supplemental EIS should:
- Reference the generic EIS, summarize its relevant sections, and indicate where an interested entity can find a copy of the generic EIS;
- Incorporate mitigation and alternatives recommended in the generic EIS as requirements for the supplemental action, and, in addition, specify any additional mitigation measures or alternatives to be analyzed by the supplemental EIS; and
- Relate analyses in the supplemental EIS to conditions, criteria and thresholds established in the generic EIS and adopted in findings.
16. How should a lead agency treat public comments received on a supplement to a generic EISs?
Comments made on supplements to generic EISs should be restricted to the new issues identified and discussed in the supplement, and the lead agency must respond to those comments in the final supplemental EIS. However, the lead agency need not respond to comments received in regard to the underlying final generic EIS, or to simple statements in support of, or in opposition to, the proposed action analyzed by the supplemental EIS.
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