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SEQRA SERIES, PART 1 - What is the Purpose of SEQRA, and When Does it Apply?

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In the realm of New York State environmental regulation, the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) stands out as a cornerstone legislation designed to incorporate environmental considerations into the decision-making processes of state and local agencies. SEQRA mandates that all agencies must evaluate the environmental impacts of the actions they propose or approve. This blog post aims to shed light on the purpose of SEQRA and delve into the types of actions that necessitate SEQRA review.

The Purpose of SEQRA

At its core, SEQRA serves a dual purpose. First, it is designed to ensure that agency decision-makers consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors when making decisions on discretionary actions. This holistic approach is fundamental in promoting sustainable development and protecting New York’s environmental assets for current and future generations. Secondly, SEQRA fosters public participation in the governmental decision-making process. By mandating that environmental impacts be considered openly and transparently, SEQRA ensures that the public is well-informed and has ample opportunity to provide input on projects that may affect their environment and community.

SEQRA applies a systematic framework to identify and mitigate potential environmental impacts before an action is carried out. This process begins with the determination of significance, where agencies assess whether an action may have a significant adverse impact on the environment. If such an impact is possible, a more detailed environmental review is required, often culminating in the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This document provides a comprehensive analysis of potential environmental impacts and explores alternatives and mitigation measures.

When SEQRA Applies

Determining whether it applies is the first step in the SEQRA process. An action is subject to SEQRA if a local or state government—or its agencies—has the authority to issue a discretionary permit, license, or some other approval for the action. SEQRA will also apply if the local or state government or its agency provides funding for or undertakes the action. The triggering factor is that there is discretionary decision-making by the government or its agencies. Absent any of these circumstances, SEQRA will not apply.

Examples of actions that will trigger SEQRA review include:

  • Construction projects such as building roads, bridges, or other infrastructure developments.
  • Changes in land use or zoning regulations, i.e., rezoning or subdivision of parcels.
  • Permit applications for environmentally sensitive uses, i.e., landfills, wastewater treatment plants, or other industrial facilities.
  • Adoption of a comprehensive plan.
  • Redevelopment projects for former industrial zones or waterfront properties.
  • Renewable energy projects, such as wind farms or solar fields.

Conclusion

SEQRA plays a vital role in New York environmental governance by ensuring that environmental impacts are considered in the decision-making process of state and local agencies. By requiring the identification and mitigation of potential environmental impacts before an action is carried out, SEQRA promotes sustainable development and enhances public participation in governmental decisions. Understanding the types of actions that fall under SEQRA is crucial for navigating the regulatory landscape and ensuring compliance with environmental review requirements. Through its comprehensive framework, SEQRA continues to safeguard New York’s environmental resources for the benefit of all its residents.

If you have questions about SEQRA, need assistance with SEQRA, or are seeking guidance with an Environmental or Land Use & Zoning matter, please contact Mindy L. Zoghlin, Esq., Jacob H. Zoghlin, Esq., or Ryan Ockenden, Esq.

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