A. Agencies Subject to SEQR: The Who, What, and When
In This Section You Will Learn:
- which state and local agencies must implement SEQR;
- which agencies are excluded from complying with SEQR; and
- what agency enforces SEQR.
1. What agencies are required to comply with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR)?
All agencies of government at the state, county and local level within New York must comply with SEQR. State agencies are defined as any department, agency, board, public benefit corporation, public authority or commission. The Department of State, the Department of Health, the Dormitory Authority, Department of Transportation and DEC are examples of state agencies that are subject to SEQR. Local agencies include any agency, board, district, commission or governing body, including any city, county or other political subdivision of the state. Local legislative bodies, planning boards, zoning boards of appeal, county health departments, school districts and industrial development authorities (IDAs) are examples of local agencies subject to SEQR. Multi-municipal, multi-county or regional agencies which have approval authority over a particular action are also subject to SEQR.
2. What about the Governor, the New York State Legislature and the courts? Do they have to comply with SEQR?
No. These entities are not classified as "agencies" for the purposes of SEQR compliance. Also, there are very few instances when the Governor, the Legislature or the courts actually undertake, directly fund or approve any action by themselves If they do it is usually for emergency actions which are excluded from SEQR compliance anyway. In most cases, the Governor issues an executive order, the Legislature passes a law or the courts order something to be done by one of the entities that is classified as an "agency". It is when this agency funds approves or directly undertakes an action that SEQR must be satisfied.
3. Are there any agencies excluded from complying with SEQR?
In enacting SEQR, The Legislature specifically excluded some decisions by agencies. These include the Adirondack Park Agency for actions on private land within the Adirondack Park (the "Blue Line") and the Public Service Commission for actions involving Articles VII and X of the Public Service Law (e.g. pipelines, transmission lines and power plants). This was done because these two agencies already had a SEQR-like analysis process.
In addition, there are a few narrowly focused exclusions:
- The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has an exemption for most actions it takes on land that it already owns;
- The New York Power Authority (NYPA) has the potential to be excluded from the provisions of SEQR only to the extent that compliance with SEQR is inconsistent with the terms and purposes of Section 1014 or the Public Officers Law.;
- The Long Island Power Authority is exempt for actions involving the decommissioning of the Shoreham Nuclear Plant.;
- The Thruway Authority was granted an exclusion from SEQR in 1990 for the acquisition of Interstate 287 which connects the Tappan Zee Bridge to the New England Section of the Thruway;
- The Hudson River Waterfront Area was similarly excluded from SEQR requirements in 1990 for the designation of certain portions of the Hudson River shoreline in Manhattan as portions of the Hudson River Waterfront Area, and their simultaneous removal from the West Side Roadway Construction. Area; and
- The New York State Department of Transportation was granted an exemption for certain actions involving addition of travel lanes and other projects on the Long Island Expressway.
4. Does SEQR apply to decisions of local legislative bodies?
Yes. The legislative decisions of city, town, village and county governing bodies that may affect the environment are subject to review under SEQR.
5. Does SEQR apply to school districts and various other agencies with area jurisdictions which do not necessarily coincide with regular municipal boundaries?
Yes. School districts, fire districts, water districts and other agencies with jurisdictional boundaries that differ from individual municipal boundaries are subject to SEQR.
6. Does SEQR apply to decisions of advisory bodies?
No. SEQR does not apply to the recommendations of any agency or body acting in an advisory role. However, such agencies can participate in the SEQR process as interested agencies. Examples of this type of advisory body would be:
- Environmental Management Councils
- Conservation Advisory Committees
- A Planning Board when acting only as a consulting body for the Town Board.
7. May an agency assign its SEQR review responsibilities to another agency? For example, can a town board delegate its responsibilities to a local planning board or conservation advisory counsel?
No. An agency's responsibilities under SEQR to make determinations of significance, to conduct environmental impact reviews, if required, and to make findings following the completion of the Final EIS cannot be delegated to other agencies. However, other agencies may provide assistance in these reviews and determinations, so long as it is clear that the decision making agency is responsible for its own SEQR decisions.
8. Must not-for-profit or other private organizations undertake SEQR review before making decisions?
No. The decisions of privately-sponsored not-for-profit or similar organizations such as churches, day-care centers, hospitals, private schools, YMCA's and the Red Cross are not subject to SEQR. However, specific actions proposed by such organizations which require permits or approvals by a government agency may be subject to SEQR. For example, if the YMCA wished to build a new structure, and the action required a site plan approval, the building of this structure would be subject to SEQR analysis by the town.
9. Who is responsible to see that review under SEQR is actually performed?
Each agency is independently responsible to ensure that its own decisions are consistent with the requirements of SEQR. If more than one agency is involved in decisions related to an overall action and coordinated review is called for, only the agency which takes the lead role in conducting such review makes the determination of significance and oversees the development and review of any required impact statements. (See Participation in the SEQR Process - A. Coordinated Review for more information on lead agencies.)
10. 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."
11. 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.)
12. How can 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.
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