Last Thursday, Basil Seggos, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“NYSDEC”) announced the first major update to New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) regulations in over 20 years. SEQRA establishes a process to systematically consider environmental factors early in the planning stages of actions that are directly undertaken, funded or approved by local or state agencies. Seggos believes the updates will “streamline the environmental review process and encourage sustainable development and renewable energy development without sacrificing SEQRA’s integrity or the environmental protection it affords.”

The updates will take effect on January 1, 2019, and will modify thresholds for actions deemed more likely to require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”). Other notable changes in relation to the content of a draft EIS include “the consideration of measures to avoid or reduce an action’s impacts on climate change-induced conditions such as sea level rise and flooding, as well as enhancements to make acceptance procedures for EIS more consistent.”

In addition, the updates will expand the number of actions not subject to review, otherwise known as Type II actions. Unlike actions or projects that have been listed as Type I, Type II actions have been determined not to have a significant impact on the environment. Accordingly, if an action is classified as Type II, SEQRA is satisfied, and no further action is required.

Examples of actions to be added to the Type II list include:

  • Green infrastructure upgrades or retrofits;
  • Installation of solar arrays on closed landfills, cleaned-up brownfield sites, wastewater treatment facilities, sites zoned for industrial use, or solar canopies on residential and commercial parking facilities;
  • Installation of solar arrays on an existing structure not listed on the national or state register of historic places;
  • Reuse of a residential or commercial structure, or structure containing mixed residential and commercial uses;
  • Acquisition and dedication of parkland;
  • Land transfers in connection with one, two or three family housing; and
  • Construction and operation of certain anaerobic digesters at operating publicly owned landfills.

These updates were the result of an organized effort by the NYSDEC and various stakeholders, and extensive comments received from the public. The final rules will become available on NYSDEC’s website on July 18, 2018, as well as in the Environmental Notice Bulletin and the State Register. An updated SEQRA handbook and workbooks are expected to be released later this year. NYSDEC will also be providing training sessions for lead agencies to ensure understanding of these updates.

Moving forward, there may be an increase in development as various actions have been deemed Type II and are no longer subject to SEQRA.