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Court of Appeals Reaffirms that Deference Is Alive and Well When It Comes to Substantive Requirements of SEQRA EISs

The New York Court of Appeals has long established that an agency’s assessment of environmental impacts pursuant to the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, is entitled to substantial deference, admonishing lower courts that it is not their role to substitute their judgment for the judgment of agencies undertaking the action. Sometimes, however, lower courts give lip service to the deferential standard of review but fail to apply it.

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Judicial oversight in the environmental review process presents a regular zone of conflict both nationally and within New York State. Since the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1970, which spawned the subsequent enactment of state “Little NEPA’s,” questions of what issues must be analyzed, how substantive that review must be, and the degree of deference given to the agency conducting the review have continued to drive litigation, increasing the costs and dramatically expanding the schedule for projects requiring a discretionary governmental action. The New York Court of Appeals has long established that an agency’s assessment of environmental impacts pursuant to the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, is entitled to substantial deference, admonishing lower courts that it is not their role to substitute their judgment for the judgment of agencies undertaking the action.

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