Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Must Provide For Adequate Public Input to Proposed Changes to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) Process

Proposed amendments need more public involvement
August 20, 2012
New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. (I, D, WF-Sag Harbor) today called on the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to insure there is adequate opportunity for public involvement before making any changes to the regulations for the State Environmental Quality Review Act. (SEQRA).

On July 11, 2012, the DEC published notice of proposed changes in the State Environmental Notice Bulletin, announcing the intent to prepare a draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) even though the DEC has already concluded that it “has not identified any significant adverse environmental impacts from the proposed amendments.” Comments on the draft scope closed on August 10, 2012. Final approval of the proposed changes is expected in October 2012.

The proposed amendments include:

  1. Changes to the scoping process:
    1. Require public scoping of Environmental Impact Statements (EIS);
    2. Provide greater continuity between the environmental assessment process, the scope and the draft EIS with respect to content; and
    3. Change the regulatory language to encourage targeted EISs.
  2. Reduce review requirements:
    1. Reduce the numeric thresholds in the Type I list for residential subdivisions and parking;
    2. Reduce protection for historic resources in line with other resource based items on the Type I list; and
    3. Increase the number of actions not requiring review under SEQRA (Type II list) to encourage development in urban areas versus development in greenfields and to allow green infrastructure projects.
  3. Shorten timeframes for decision making:
    1. Provide guidance regarding the proper means for determining the adequacy of a draft EIS; and
    2. Establish a new timeframe for the completion of a final EIS.

Thiele stated, “After reviewing these amendments and consulting with stakeholders in the process, I am concerned that these changes may be pushed through without the full involvement of the public and those stakeholders most directly impacted, such as local governments, civic groups, and local business. Putting a regulation out for comment without fanfare in the middle of the summer is not a good faith effort to involve stakeholders in the process. SEQRA regulations have been amended only twice in the last 17 years. There has been virtually no public discussion of this proposal. These changes may be meritorious, but they are not inconsequential. DEC should be doing more outreach to stakeholders to insure that the final product is the best that it can be.”