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. For an outline of SEQR's basic requirement, see Guiding the Process (pdf, 944 kb), an introduction to the fundamentals of applying SEQRA to state and local government decisions.
This means these agencies must assess the environmental significance of all actions they have discretion to approve, fund or directly undertake. SEQR requires the agencies to balance the environmental impacts with social and economic factors when deciding to approve or undertake an "Action".
How does SEQR work?
If an action is determined not to have significant adverse environmental impacts, a determination of nonsignificance (Negative Declaration) is prepared. If an action is determined to have potentially significant adverse environmental impacts, an "Environmental Impact Statement" is required.
The SEQR process uses the EIS to examine ways to avoid or reduce adverse environmental impacts related to a proposed action. This includes an analysis of all reasonable alternatives to the action. The SEQR "decision making process" encourages communication among government agencies, project sponsors and the general public.
The law was implemented by regulations which were fully effective on November 1, 1978 and revised effective June 1, 1987 and January 1, 1996.
To whom does SEQR apply?
SEQR applies to all state or local government agencies including districts and special boards and authorities whenever they must approve or fund a privately or publicly sponsored action. It also applies whenever an agency directly undertakes an action. Applicants who seek project approval or funding may be responsible for preparing an EIS.
When actions consist of several steps or sets of activities, the entire set must be considered the action, even if several separate agencies are involved. Segmentation of an action into components for individual review is contrary to the intent of SEQR. No agency involved in the overall action can make a final decision until the SEQR process is completed.
Actions that NEVER require an EIS:
Type II actions
Type II actions listed in the statewide and agency SEQR regulations are determined not to have a significant adverse impact on the environment. Some examples:
- rebuilding or replacement of facilities, inkind, on the same site
- minor structures, such as garages, barns or home swimming pools, routine permit and license renewals with no substantial change in permitted activities
- construct or expand either primary or accessory nonresidential structures in an appropriate zone with less than 4,000 square feet of gross floor space construct or expand a single, two or three family residence on approved lot
- routine activities of educational institutions, including expansions of existing facilities by less than 10,000 square feet
- nondiscretionary (ministerial) approvals
- maintenance and repair activities
- emergency actions
- actions of the New York State Legislature and the Governor or of any court enforcement actions
- actions subject to environmental review under the Adirondack Park Agency or Public Service Laws.
What are the benefits of SEQR?
SEQR benefits the public, agencies and project sponsors in many ways.
The public may:
- participate in scoping the draft EIS
- review SEQR documents and provide comments to agency decision-makers
- participate in SEQR hearings on the environmental impacts of the project
Agencies must: establish a clear, supportable record of the agency's decision-making.