BLUEPRINT SEQRA Reform Committee Asked by DEC To Submit Comments on Proposed Changes
On July 19th, 2012, Seth Mandelbaum, David Smith and Marissa Brett of the WCA’s BLUEPRINT SEQRA Reform Committee met with representatives from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), including Regional Director Willie Janeway, DEC Assistant Counsel Lawrence Weintraub, and ...
...Director of Environmental Permits and Pollution Prevention Jack Nasca to share some of the committee’s recommendations for streamlining the SEQRA process.
The committee was created to see if there were ways in which SEQRA, the State’s Environmental Quality Review Act, might be amended in order to help make New York much more “business-friendly.”
Over the past few months, the committee met to identify procedures and areas in the law that should be considered for modification. Their first discussion with the DEC focused on two topics: The new Environmental Assessment Forms (short EAF and full EAF) that were set to become effective on 10/1/12 now delayed until 4/1/2013, and the draft scope for the Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) in conjunction with proposed amendments to the existing SEQRA regulations.
A little history:
Passed in 1975 for the purpose of reviewing and assessing any potential environmental impact on proposed projects that are subject to public approval or funding, the hope was that SEQRA would prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and “enhance community resources.” A worthwhile goal.
“Yet, the effect of the Act has been to add innumerable delays to projects, let alone cost," says Brett, "While preserving the environment is a worthy goal -- and we applaud local officials and developers who are sensitive to environmental concerns -- it doesn't mean we can't turn a critical eye on the Act and reform it."
To that end, the Blueprint for Westchester’s SEQRA Reform Committee has been meeting to identify procedures and areas in the law that should be considered for modification.
Here’s what happened:
The DEC reps stated that the new forms would not change from what has been adopted, though it was noted that these final forms have been scaled back significantly from the original versions in response to public comments.
That said, the reps stressed that the combination of the proposed EAF “workbook” and the associated GEIS database, as well as more user-friendly on-line forms that will be both “fillable” and “saveable,” will result in a vast improvement over the current outdated forms.
With respect to the proposed GEIS for the changes to the regulations, the BLUEPRINT SEQRA Reform Committee was strongly encouraged to submit comments on the draft scope by the 8/10/12 deadline.
One topic the Committee touched on briefly was the need for training of municipal officials, municipal board members, and land use practitioners for the new EAF forms and amended regulations. To this end, it was agreed that the Committee and DEC would pursue developing joint programs, possibly including other organizations such as WMPF and Pace Law School.
Additional items discussed included the potential for DEC to act as an arbiter in the event there is a dispute between a Lead Agency and an Applicant as an example.
Bottom line: Some progress was made.
The next meeting of the BLUEPRINT SEQRA Reform Committee will be held on Tuesday, August 7 to finalize the Committee’s response to DEC's proposed new SEQRA Regulations. Stay tuned!