State Environmental Policy Act Rulemaking 2012

Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requires that all state and local agencies consider the likely consequences before making decisions that affect the natural and built environment. The law provides broad authority for agency decision makers to avoid, mitigate or compensate for adverse impacts by modifying proposals or denying permits.

The 2012 Legislature directed the Department of Ecology to update SEPA rules to help streamline regulatory processes and achieve program efficiencies. These updates shall also maintain current levels of natural resource protection. State lawmakers also directed Ecology to implement the SEPA updates in two stages: Round 1 by December 31, 2012, and Round 2 by December 31, 2013.

Ecology has completed Round 1 of SEPA rule-making, the rule-making order was filed on December 28, 2012 and the rule will take effect on January 28, 2013. For more information see:

The Round 1 rule amendments increase the flexible thresholds that local governments may adopt to exempt minor new construction projects from SEPA review, increase the threshold for electric facilities and improve the efficiency of the environmental checklist. Amendments include:

  • Establishing separate flexible exemption thresholds for local governments in counties fully planning under RCW 36.70A.040 and local governments in other counties.
  • Revising the process that local governments follow in adopting flexible SEPA minor new construction exemption thresholds.
  • Revising and clarifying language related to the “residential”, “parking lot” and “landfill and excavation” categories of minor new construction.
  • Increasing the exemption threshold for SEPA review of electric facilities.
  • Adding flexibility for all lead agencies to improve the efficiency of the environmental checklist. This includes allowing for electronic submittal of the environmental checklist, including electronic signature.  

Why is this important?

SEPA was enacted in 1971, when the nation’s awareness of environmental problems was emerging. Many laws and procedures for environmental protection, land use planning and infrastructure provision have been implemented since SEPA was first adopted. The 2012 legislature directed Ecology to modernize the rules that guide state and local agencies in conducting SEPA reviews, in light of the increased environmental protections in place under RCW 36.70A, RCW 90.58 and other laws.

Background

Ecology is embarking on the first of two rounds of updates to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) rules (Chapter 197-11 WAC), as directed by the 2012 legislature. The legislature directed Ecology to modernize the rules that guide state and local agencies in conducting SEPA reviews, in light of the increased environmental protections in place under RCW 36.70A, RCW 90.58 and other laws. This legislative direction is provided in Senate Bill 6406 (now codified as Chapter 1, Laws of 2012 1st Special Session) , specifically in Section 301. The bill also revised certain aspects of SEPA procedures that took effect July 10, 2012.

The legislation sets up two rounds of rule updates: A narrowly-focused initial round (targeted to be complete by the end of 2012) and a broader round of SEPA rule updates during 2013. As directed by Section 301 of the bill, the initial rule making will consider two specific topics:

  • Increasing the thresholds for SEPA review of minor construction projects under Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 197-11-800(1) and (23)(c); and
  • Improving the efficiency of the environmental checklist in WAC 197-11-960.

Senate Bill 6406 directs Ecology to update these two specific SEPA rule topics by December 31, 2012. The bill directs Ecology to conduct a second broader round of SEPA rule revisions during 2013.

Senate Bill 6406 also directs Ecology to convene a SEPA Advisory Committee to assist Ecology in updating the SEPA exemption thresholds and the environmental checklist. For more information about the advisory committee see: SEPA Rulemaking Advisory Committee

Contact information

 

For questions or comments concerning SEPA, please e-mail the SEPA Unit or call (360) 407-6922.