SEQR ranks high on Senate regulatory problem list

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

A new state Senate Majority report on burdensome state regulations provides more backup for the Empire Center’s recent call to reform New York’s environmental planning review process.

The 128-page report was issued Monday by a team of Republican and Independent Democratic Senators who held public hearings across the state at which business and community representatives were invited to identify regulatory obstacles to economic growth. The State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process was repeatedly identified as one of those obstacles, according to the Senate report.

That’s consistent with a recent Empire Center report, which said SEQR too easily “can be exploited to produce costly delays and uncertainty for the kind of job-creating projects New York desperately needs.” Our report, “Streamlining SEQR,” identified needed reforms including the adoption of more concrete deadlines and a defined “scoping” process to identify significant concerns with proposed developments.

While it would be difficult to quantify SEQR’s role in discouraging investment and job creation in New York, the added regulatory imposition certainly does little to expedite the building of new homes, businesses, factories and civic facilities. As currently written and interpreted, SEQR can be exploited to produce costly delays and uncertainty for the kind of job-creating projects New York desperately needs. Several of the state’s regional economic development councils have identified SEQR as an obstacle to development.

The Center’s report noted examples of unnecessary layers of red tape and local land-use laws that discourage development.

Speakers at Senate hearings who identified the lack of firm timetables as a big SEQR-related problem included Matt Cohen, vice president of the Long Island Association; Randy Wolken, president of the Manufacturing Association of Central New York; Kipp Hicks, executive director of the Madison County Industrial Development Agency.

SEQR drew criticism across industry lines, from representatives of manufacturers, regional business groups and local chambers of commerce, including Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce; Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate; Karyn Burns, vice president of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York; Mitch Pally, CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute; G. Thomas Tranter, president of Corning Enterprises.

The ball is now in the Cuomo administration’s court, where the state Department of Environmental Conservation has been reviewing potential SEQR rule changes.

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- E.J. McMahon is the Research Director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.