CLP recommends DEC expand consideration of greenhouse gas emissions in SEQRA reviews

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has proposed the first amendments to State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) regulations in over two decades. The amendments were driven in part by the desire to better align the environmental review process with state energy targets, including streamlining the process for installing solar arrays on priority sites, such as industrial sites and parking lots.

While CLP supports most of the proposed amendments, one is cause for concern. While DEC’s proposal to require a public scoping process to identify all potential environmental impacts that will be considered in a project’s environmental impact statement (EIS) is a positive change, DEC has also proposed prohibiting rejection of a Draft EIS on the basis of information that has come to light after scoping has been completed. This provision could weaken an environmental review by excluding potentially important information in cases where there may be perfectly justifiable reasons why the information did not become available during scoping. In our comments, CLP recommends that the Lead Agency in a review process should continue to have the discretion to determine whether information submitted later in the process is important enough to provide the basis for requiring that a Draft EIS be updated to address it.

CLP also recommends that DEC revise its guidelines to ensure a more comprehensive consideration of the long-term climate impacts of fossil fuel-intensive projects, such as pipelines, by taking into account their indirect emissions -- those occurring upstream and downstream of a proposed project. We recommend that all emissions from producing, processing, and consuming the fuel carried by pipelines be included in the review process, and be examined within the context of New York State energy goals and policy.

Several other jurisdictions around the country have begun including such emissions in their environmental impact reviews, and in 2016, the Obama Administration Council on Environmental Quality provided instructions for including such emissions in all federal reviews. These guidelines were later rescinded by Trump Administration Executive Order in April. CLP recommends that DEC move to adopt these best practice guidelines, and we suggest a three-step process for conducting these reviews. 

In an accompanying white paper, CLP has provided an example of applying this process to the proposed Pilgrim pipelines. The Pilgrim example illustrates that these emissions can be large enough to offset the gains from other state climate policies, making it crucial that all emissions impacts be included in the environmental review process.