New York's State Environmental Quality Review needs to be reformed to reduce costly delays in the process for approving development projects, according to a report released today by the Empire Center for Public Policy.
"SEQR adds an unnecessary layer of red tape to environmental regulations and local land-use laws, discouraging development that New York needs to promote a strong and growing economy," said E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center, who co-authored the report with Michael Wright, a senior policy analyst at the Albany-based policy research organization.
"As currently written and interpreted, SEQR can be exploited to produce costly delays and uncertainty for the kind of job-creating projects New York urgently needs," McMahon said. "While no one would argue with the intent of the law, it has become an obstacle to economic development."
Noting the state Department of Environmental Conservation is considering reforms of the SEQR law, the report says revisions are needed to:
•Reduce the potential for undue delays by imposing hard deadlines and incentives to ensure the process can be completed within a year;
•Mandate "scoping" of environmental impacts at the first stage in the SEQR review process, but also more tightly restrict the introduction of new issues by lead agencies later in the process; and
•Eliminate the law's reference to "community and neighborhood character" as an aspect of the environment potentially affected by projects, since the concept already is defined by local planning and zoning laws.
"SEQR reform has been a longstanding priority for us," said Ken Pokalsky, vice president of government affairs for The Business Council of New York State Inc. "Developers statewide have said that long and uncertain project reviews discourage potential investments in New York. As shown in the (center's) report, we can maintain environmental protections with a much more efficient review process."
The Empire Center is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, classified as a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.