This bill undermines the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) in several ways. It substitutes fully developed agency decisions with detrimental defaults if the agency doesn’t meet certain deadlines. It also prohibits extending project review periods unless the permit applicant agrees to the extension. Finally, it prohibits agencies from assessing newly discovered environmental impacts of a project if the environmental impact statement has already been approved, even if that new information would have resulted in a permit denial.
The State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQR, is intended to prevent damage to environmental, human, and community resources. SEQR requires state and local agencies to consider a project’s potential adverse impacts on the environment and modify the project to avoid those impacts.
Sometimes the state or local agency performing the review needs an additional, reasonable amount of time to consider newly discovered information about the project. Under this bill, the agency doesn’t get more time unless the applicant allows it. If the agency runs out of time before they can process the new information, then a default decision is made in favor of the project sponsor in lieu of the agency’s decision. For example, if the reviewing agency doesn’t approve the final environmental impact statement within 180 days, then it is void and meaningless. Moreover, if the agency discovers this new information after the environmental impact statement is approved, then the agency can’t consider the new information at all.
There is no substitute for a robust analysis of a project’s potential to harm our environment and public health. Short-circuiting SEQR in favor of special interests is poor policy.
This bill amends section 8-0109 of the environmental conservation law by setting deadlines for state environmental quality review, and making those deadlines mandatory unless the project sponsor agrees to an extension. This bill also adds a new subdivision 4-a, which does the following: imposes default findings of “no significance” if the reviewing agency doesn’t find otherwise within 20 days; limits the scope of review to whatever is found in the draft environmental impact statement if the reviewing agency doesn’t require otherwise within sixty days; renders the final environmental impact statement meaningless if it is not approved within one hundred eighty days. Finally, the bill prohibits agencies from considering newly discovered information after the final environmental impact statement is approved.