A Guide to the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) guide provides a comprehensive overview of this crucial regulation, empowering developers and environmental consultants to navigate the complex environmental review process effectively. Discover the key provisions, applicability, and compliance obligations under SEQRA, while gaining insights into recent developments and the regulatory outlook. Learn to identify and mitigate significant environmental impacts, understand the structure of the regulation, and explore additional resources to support successful project planning and execution. This guide offers essential knowledge to manage SEQRA compliance confidently, avoid enforcement actions, and contribute to sustainable development practices in New York State.


Key Details of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA)

Issuing Agency: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)

Year Established: 1975

Last Amended: 2018

Statutory Authority: The New York State Environmental Quality Review Act, Article 8 of the New York Environmental Conservation Law1

Primary Legal Reference: 6 New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (NYCRR) Part 6172

Overview of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA)

The New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) is a state-level regulation that requires state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making. It operates within the broader framework of New York's Environmental Conservation Law and is administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

SEQRA aims to promote the protection of the environment, human health, and community resources by mandating the consideration of environmental factors early in the planning stages of actions that are directly undertaken, funded or approved by local, regional and state agencies. It requires agencies to assess the environmental significance of all actions they have discretion to approve, fund or directly undertake, and to consider alternatives that could avoid or reduce adverse environmental impacts.

Enacted in 1975, SEQRA has undergone several amendments, with the most recent significant changes occurring in 2018. The regulation achieves its goals through a multi-step environmental review process that involves the preparation of an Environmental Assessment Form (EAF), a determination of significance, and, if necessary, the development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).3

SEQRA applies to all state and local agencies within New York State when they are making discretionary decisions to approve, fund, or directly undertake an action. Certain actions, such as enforcement proceedings, ministerial acts, maintenance or repair involving no substantial changes, and actions of the State Legislature and Governor, are exempt from SEQRA review.4

What does the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) protect?

The New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) protects a wide range of environmental resources from potential adverse impacts resulting from state and local agency actions. These resources include land, air, water, minerals, flora, fauna, noise, resources of agricultural, archeological, historic or aesthetic significance, existing patterns of population concentration, distribution or growth, existing community or neighborhood character, and human health. SEQRA achieves this protection by requiring agencies to identify and mitigate significant environmental impacts associated with the actions they undertake, fund, or approve through a comprehensive environmental review process.


Regulated Activities & Entities

The New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) is a comprehensive environmental review process that applies to most projects or activities proposed by a state agency or unit of local government, and all discretionary approvals (permits) from a NYS agency or unit of local government. SEQRA requires the sponsoring or approving governmental body to identify and mitigate the significant environmental impacts of the activity it is proposing or permitting.

SEQRA applies to a wide range of activities and entities, including but not limited to:

  • State and local government agencies
  • Public benefit corporations
  • Industrial development agencies
  • Private developers seeking government permits or approvals
  • Projects involving the use of state or local government funds or facilities
  • Zoning changes and comprehensive plans
  • Construction projects, such as schools, housing, and infrastructure
  • Landfills, incinerators, and waste facilities
  • Mining and drilling operations
  • Wastewater treatment plants and sewer systems

The following activities are generally prohibited or restricted under SEQRA due to their potential for significant adverse environmental impacts:

  1. Unrestricted discharge of pollutants into water bodies or groundwater
  2. Destruction or alteration of significant habitats, wetlands, or other critical environmental areas
  3. Projects that would cause or contribute to violations of air or water quality standards
  4. Activities that would lead to significant increases in traffic, noise, or light pollution in residential areas
  5. Development in flood-prone areas or on steep slopes prone to erosion
  6. Projects that would have a disproportionately high and adverse impact on minority or low-income communities (environmental justice concerns)

These prohibitions and restrictions are intended to protect public health, natural resources, and the environment from the potential negative consequences of unchecked development and industrial activities.

Structure and Key Provisions

Article 8 of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL)

SEQRA is codified in Article 8 of the New York Environmental Conservation Law (ECL), which establishes the legislative intent, definitions, and general provisions of the act.

6 NYCRR Part 617

The SEQRA regulations are found in Title 6, Chapter VI, Part 617 of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (6 NYCRR Part 617). These regulations provide detailed procedures and criteria for implementing SEQRA, including:

  • § 617.2 - Definitions of key terms used in the regulations
  • § 617.3 - General rules of procedure and application of the regulations
  • § 617.4 - Types of actions and their environmental significance (Type I, Type II, and Unlisted actions)
  • § 617.5 - Exemptions from SEQRA review
  • § 617.6 - Initial review of actions and establishing lead agency
  • § 617.7 - Determining significance and preparing Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)
  • § 617.8 - Scoping procedures for EIS
  • § 617.9 - Preparation and content of EIS
  • § 617.10 - Generic EIS
  • § 617.11 - Decision-making and findings requirements
  • § 617.12 - Document preparation, filing, publication, and distribution
  • § 617.13 - Fees and costs
  • § 617.14 - Individual agency procedures to implement SEQRA

It is essential for project sponsors and government agencies to consult the full text of the SEQRA statute and regulations, as well as any applicable agency-specific guidelines, to ensure compliance with all requirements. Early communication with the relevant agencies is also recommended to obtain project-specific guidance and facilitate a smooth environmental review process.


Regulatory Standards & Limitations

The New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) establishes a comprehensive environmental review process for certain actions proposed by state and local government agencies, including projects that require discretionary approvals or permits5. While SEQRA itself does not set specific emissions limits, performance standards, or other quantitative metrics, it requires the lead agency to identify and assess the potential significant adverse environmental impacts of a proposed action6.

The lead agency must consider various environmental factors, such as impacts on air and water quality, land use, natural resources, and community character7. If the lead agency determines that the proposed action may have a significant adverse impact on the environment, it must prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that analyzes these impacts in detail and proposes mitigation measures8.

Compliance with SEQRA is enforced through the permitting and approval processes of the should be instantiated as relevant state and local agencies. Projects that fail to comply with SEQRA requirements may face delays, denials, or legal challenges9.

Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Obligations

The specific monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements under SEQRA vary depending on the nature and scale of the proposed action and the potential environmental impacts identified during the review process. In general, the lead agency may require the project sponsor to conduct ongoing monitoring and reporting to ensure compliance with the conditions of the approval and the mitigation measures outlined in the EIS.

Developers and consultants should work closely with the lead agency to understand and fulfill these obligations for their specific projects. This may involve developing detailed monitoring plans, collecting and analyzing environmental data, preparing periodic compliance reports, and maintaining accurate records of project activities.

It is important to note that SEQRA compliance is an ongoing process that extends beyond the initial approval of the project. Project sponsors must remain engaged with the relevant agencies throughout the life of the project to ensure continued compliance with SEQRA requirements and any project-specific conditions.

Enforcement Actions & Penalties

Violations of SEQRA can result in various enforcement actions by the relevant state and local agencies. These may include10:

  • Notices of violation
  • Administrative orders
  • Civil penalties
  • Criminal penalties (in rare cases involving willful or egregious violations)

The specific enforcement provisions and penalty structures vary depending Abstraction from the nature and severity of the violation and the enforcing agency's authority under SEQRA and other applicable laws.

To avoid enforcement actions, it is essential for project sponsors to prioritize proactive compliance and early engagement with the relevant agencies. This includes conducting thorough environmental assessments, developing robust mitigation strategies, and maintaining open lines of communication with the agencies throughout the SEQRA process.

Developers and consultants should consult the full text of SEQRA and work closely with the relevant agencies to understand the specific enforcement provisions and penalty structures that may apply to their projects. By doing so, they can minimize the risk of violations and ensure the successful completion of their projects in compliance with SEQRA requirements.


Recent Developments & Regulatory Outlook

In recent years, the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) has undergone several significant developments that have shaped the current regulatory landscape. One of the most notable changes was the 2018 amendment to the SEQRA regulations, which aimed to streamline and modernize the environmental review process. The amendments included provisions for scoping, clarifying the definition of a "negative declaration," and establishing new thresholds for actions deemed Type II (exempt from review).

Another important development was the 2019 Court of Appeals decision in the case of Matter of Saratoga Lake Protection and Improvement District v. Department of Public Works of City of Saratoga Springs. This decision clarified the standard for determining whether an action may have a significant adverse environmental impact, emphasizing the need for a "reasoned elaboration" in making such determinations.

Looking ahead, stakeholders should be aware of potential future changes to SEQRA, such as the ongoing efforts to further streamline the environmental review process and reduce administrative burdens. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is expected to continue its public outreach and engagement efforts to gather input from the regulated community and other interested parties on potential improvements to SEQRA.

To stay informed about these developments, stakeholders can:

  • Join the DEC's email listserv to receive notifications about SEQRA-related news and events
  • Engage with industry associations, such as the New York State Association of Environmental Professionals, which often provide updates and analysis on regulatory changes

By staying informed and engaged, developers and environmental consultants can better navigate the evolving regulatory landscape and ensure compliance with SEQRA requirements.

Additional Resources


  1. N.Y. Env. Con. Law § 8-0101 et seq. (McKinney)

  2. 6 NYCRR Part 617

  3. 6 NYCRR § 617.3

  4. 6 NYCRR § 617.5

  5. N.Y. Env't Conserv. Law § 8-0109 (McKinney 2021).

  6. N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6, § 617.7 (2021).

  7. N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6, § 617.7(c) (2021).

  8. N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6, § 617.9 (2021).

  9. N.Y. Env't Conserv. Law § 8-0117 (McKinney 2021).

  10. N.Y. Env't Conserv. Law § 8-0117 (McKinney 2021).

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A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the SEQRA. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.