State Should Reform SEQR Process

It’s not just New York’s love of taxation that makes it unfriendly to business.

Take the State Environmental Quality Review process, for example.

According to a recent Empire Center report, less than a third of all states have as comprehensive an environmental review. Even fewer states have laws as broadly applicable as New York’s SEQR laws. It is impossible to quantify the impact the SEQR process has on developers, but we know existing SEQR laws make it a time-consuming endeavor to build new homes, businesses, factories and civic facilities.

Abandoning the SEQR is a bad idea. SEQR, for all its faults, has a critical role in the development process in making developers think about how a project changes the environment, affects neighbors and impacts a neighborhood. Those are all good things – which is why Gov. Andrew Cuomo has allowed the state Department of Environmental Conservation to discuss changes to the SEQR process.

Empire Center officials suggest imposing deadlines to prevent SEQR reviews from taking more than a year; mandate scoping of environmental issues early in the process and restrict the introduction of new issues later on; and eliminate the reference in the SEQR law to community and neighborhood character as a potential environmental effect. Such changes would make review process faster and less costly. This is especially true when it comes to the community and neighborhood character questions that should be taken care of by local planning and zoning boards or by a community’s local economic development officials.

The SEQR law last saw major revisions in the mid-1990s. The state DEC should take the Empire Center’s recommendations to heart as it ponders making changes now. You can’t be open for business – as Cuomo is so fond of saying – while still having such a burdensome SEQR law on the books.


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