This bill undermines the State Environmental Quality Review Act by requiring an agency to obtain an applicant’s permission if more time is needed to fully assess a project’s impact on the environment.
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 systematically consider a project’s potential adverse impacts on the environment and modify a project to avoid those impacts. If the adverse impacts of a project are unavoidable and cannot be mitigated, then the project may be denied.
Sometimes the state or local agency performing the review discovers something new about the proposed project shortly before the SEQR deadline. If that happens, then the agency can notify the applicant that they need an additional, reasonable amount of time to consider the new information, and the review continues. This bill would only let that happen if the permit applicant agreed to the extension. If the permit applicant refuses, then the state has to finish the review without fully analyzing the new information or modifying the project to mitigate the new impacts. This could result in significant environmental damage, offending the purpose of SEQR.
This bill gives permit applicants a perverse incentive to hide certain elements of their project from the reviewing agency to avoid having to mitigate environmental impacts. After all, if the agency finds out about them but there isn’t enough time left before the deadline, the project sponsor can just refuse to give the agency more time to review the information.
This bill amends Section 8-0107 of the environmental conservation law, adding that time periods set forth in the state environmental quality review act or its regulations cannot be extended unless the permit applicant or project sponsor agrees to the extension.