New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Proposes New Model Environmental Assessment Forms for Public Review and Comment

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) has proposed substantive changes to the Environmental Assessment Forms (“EAF”), which are the model forms promulgated by DEC for use by applicants and agencies to assess potential adverse environmental impacts from projects as required by the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”). The changes proposed by DEC to the EAFs are subject to a rule making process whereby any member of the public may provide comments to the proposed changes to the EAFs by February 18, 2011 (any comments must be received by DEC on that date, the address for submission of comments is set forth below). The EAFs are used by various state and local agencies, boards and sponsors to assess the environmental significance of actions they may be undertaking, funding or approving as required by SEQRA. The full EAF (the long form) used for larger or more significant projects was last substantially revised in 1978, while the short EAF (the short form) used for smaller or less significant projects was last substantially revised in 1987.

According to DEC, the forms have been modified to “address critical environmental subjects that have come to public consciousness since the forms were first created, such as hazardous waste and brownfield redevelopment, energy efficiency, climate change, smart growth, pollution prevention, and environmental justice.” In addition, the forms have been modified to make them “more effective in gathering information for the analysis of zoning and planning actions, which is a universally recognized shortcoming of the existing forms.” Finally, because the existing forms are “not compatible with current or likely future electronic information technologies,” DEC anticipates that the new forms will “take advantage of electronic technologies, by allowing a user to gain immediate access to the data needed to answer a question by linking directly to relevant spatial data.” Specific changes to the EAFs include the following:

  • The instructions and format of the EAFs have been modified to allow users to navigate through the forms more efficiently by grouping similar questions under broad threshold questions. For example, if the answer to any of the threshold questions is “no,” then the remainder of the questions in the section do not require a response, and the user may skip to the next section.
  • Part II of the EAF long form has been simplified by providing for “yes” or “no” responses.
  • The need for a separate document when using the EAF long form for the determination of significance has been eliminated.
  • DEC has merged the Visual EAF addendum, found at 6 NYCRR 617.20, Appendix B, into the EAF long form thereby eliminating the Visual EAF Addendum. According to DEC, this will help reduce the “multiplicity of forms.”
  • The EAFs will contain hyperlinks to enable users to more thoroughly and inexpensively answer questions on the form that call for geographic information, which is the majority of Part I of the form. DEC claims this change will improve accuracy and reduce time and expense in completing the forms.
  • DEC has made improvements to the short form to hopefully allow users of the EAF to make more use of the short form for Unlisted actions. Currently, although Unlisted actions comprise about seventy-five percent of the actions reviewed under SEQRA, local governments presently use the long form because they view the existing short form as “too short or cursory to be useful.”

    In addition to the changes outlined above, DEC also expects to support the revised forms with a workbook that will explain questions in the EAFs and direct users to sources for additional information. The workbook, however, is not part of the rulemaking process being undertaken to receive comments on the revised EAFs.

    The draft forms are published in full at the following web address: http://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/70293.html. As indicated, comments on the EAFs and supporting documents will be accepted by DEC until close of business, February 18, 2011. Any comments should be submitted to Mr. Robert Ewing, NYSDEC, Department of Environmental Permits, 625 Broadway, Albany, New York 12233-1750. Comments may also be submitted by email to depprmt@gw.dec.state.ny.us.

    For questions concerning the proposed revisions to the Environmental Assessment Forms described above or the SEQRA process in general, please contact Joseph D. Picciotti, leader of the Environmental Practice Group, at 585-419-8629 / jpicciotti@harrisbeach.com, Frank C. Pavia at 585-419-8709 / fpavia@harrisbeach.com, or the Harris Beach attorney with whom you usually work.

    This alert does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on specific matters.

    Harris Beach has offices throughout New York state, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Lockport, Long Island, New York City, Niagara Falls, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, White Plains, and Yonkers, as well as Newark, New Jersey, and New Haven, Connecticut.