Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 4, 2009

NYS DEC Invites Informal Comments on Proposed SEQR Changes Including A Proposed Revised EAF and Guidance Document on Incorporating Climate Change in the EIS

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is seeking input on two preliminary proposals regarding the conduct of environmental reviews under the New York State (NYS) Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR). The proposals have been circulating to a range of potentially interested organizations and individuals for early, informal review and comment before DEC proceeds with more formal, fully-noticed public review and comments.

 

The first document is a proposed complete revision of the Full (“long”) Environmental Assessment Form (EAF). The EAF is the formal tool which helps all state and local agencies in NYS develop and document each “determination of significance”, or decision whether to require preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS), on any particular project or proposal. The existing EAF is nearly 30 years old, with very few questions added or revised during that time. Staff explains that they developed this preliminary draft keeping in mind the major users of the EAF, including not only state agency staff and planning/engineering consultants but also local governments, especially their planning and zoning board members. To best support those non-specialist users, staff proposes retaining the basic 3-part structure which has become familiar for most users, as well as a systematic, topic-by-topic flow which guides an evaluator through the assessment to the final determination of significance.

 

Staff explains, that although this draft appears to be longer than the existing EAF, staff points out that a larger font size has been used to make the form easier to read and to allow for notes.  Part 1 questions (project and site description and inventory) in this preliminary draft have been re-organized to allow sponsors to skip one or more entire sections when the questions are not relevant to the proposed action. Similarly, the Part 2 (impact identification) questions are also structured so that an evaluator may skip an entire section if the question is not relevant; for example, if there are no contaminated areas within or adjoining a project site, the form is structured to direct the evaluator to the next topic. Part 3 requires the evaluators to prepare narrative explanations, which would now include magnitude of impacts as well as available mitigation, but provides more robust instructions than the current form. Finally, by moving the certification block to the end of the form, staff explains that this preliminary draft would eliminate the need to prepare both a Part 3 and a separate negative or positive declaration.

 

In conjunction with the actual EAF, but not included with this preliminary draft of the form itself, staff is also developing a companion “workbook” which would contain question-by-question  links or referrals to relevant information sources or explanations; for example, the question about whether a project is near an environmental justice community of concern would link to the EPA’s definitions and mapping function for those communities. This workbook is being developed concurrently with the rulemaking, but will not be included as part of it (allowing DEC to routinely maintain and update the workbook).

The second preliminary draft document is a technical guidance regarding the inclusion of energy use, energy conservation and climate change in an EIS. This draft document would be applicable to projects only after they have received a positive declaration that identifies energy use or greenhouse gas emissions among the suite of potentially-significant adverse environmental impacts. When the scope of an EIS includes these issues, guidance as to methodologies for estimating greenhouse gas emissions, including the boundaries for consideration of upstream and downstream impacts, may be useful. Specific guidance regarding these issues is not currently included in DEC sources such as the SEQR Handbook or adopted policy. In response, DEC is circulating this first discussion draft for comment and critique. Finalization of this guidance document would follow established DEC protocols for policy adoption, including publication of notice of availability for review and comment in the Environmental Notice Bulletin, with public comments accepted prior to adoption.

 

Please address comments on the EAF to Betty Ann Hughes, SEQR Coordinator, Division of Environmental Permits, NYS DEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-1750 bahughes@gw.dec.state.ny.us; and comments on the GHG guidance to Anne Reynolds, Director, Commissioner’s Policy Office, NYS DEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-1010, akreynolds@gw.dec.state.ny.us.


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