C. What are the Key Elements?
SEQR is both a procedural and a substantive law. In addition to establishing environmental review procedures, the law mandates that agencies act on the substantive information produced by the environmental review. This often results in project modifications and can lead to project denial if the adverse environmental impacts are overriding and adequate mitigation or alternatives are not available.
The initial step in assessing a proposed action is to determine whether SEQR applies. The SEQR process must be applied whenever an action is
- directly undertaken by an agency;
- involves funding by an agency; or
- requires one or more new or modified discretionary approvals from an agency or agencies.
If the decision is made that the activity is one that is subject to SEQR review, the next step in the process is to determine what classification of action is being analyzed. The action will fall into one of the following categories:
- Type I - a list of actions, described in Section 617.4, that experience has shown are more likely to have significant adverse environmental impacts;
- Type II - a list of actions described in Section 617.5, that have been determined not to have a significant adverse environmental impact.; or
- Unlisted - all actions that are not Type I or Type II. This is the vast majority of actions that come under SEQR review.
If the action is classified as Type II, SEQR is satisfied, and no further action is required. However, it is advisable to write a note to the file indicating that SEQR was considered, and the action was determined to be classified as Type II.
For Type I and Unlisted actions, the next step is to systematically consider environmental factors involved with the action to make a reasoned determination regarding the likelihood that the action may have a significant adverse impact on the environment. The initial SEQR tool used to make this determination is the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF).
If a significant adverse impact is likely to occur, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared to explore ways to avoid or reduce adverse environmental impacts or to identify a potentially less damaging alternative. If, on the other hand, the determination is made that the proposed action will not significantly impact the environment, then a Negative Declaration is prepared which ends the SEQR process.
An important aspect of SEQR is its public participation component. There are opportunities for outreach and public participation throughout the environmental impact statement (EIS) process. They include:
- coordination with involved and interested agencies for Type I actions,
- public input to scoping, if the lead agency chooses to have a scoping session for the Draft EIS.
- the required 30 day public comment period on the Draft EIS, and
- public hearings, if the lead agency chooses to hold one or more hearings.
These opportunities allow the public and other agencies to provide input into the planning or review process, resulting in a review with a broader perspective. It also increases the likelihood that the project will be consistent with community values.
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