Ecology adopts SEPA rule changes

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has adopted a new rule that increases the flexible thresholds local governments may adopt to exempt certain minor new construction projects from review under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

Enacted in 1971, SEPA helps state and local agencies in Washington identify possible environmental impacts that could result from governmental decisions such as issuing permits for private projects, constructing public facilities, or adopting regulations, policies or plans.

SEPA applies to all state and local agency decisions including state agencies, cities, counties, ports and special districts such as school and water districts.

Every year, state and local agencies in Washington use SEPA to evaluate about 6,000 proposed decisions. Information learned through the review process can be used to change a proposal to reduce likely impacts, apply conditions to or deny a proposal when adverse environmental impacts are identified.

SEPA also gives local governments the option to allow some minor construction projects, depending on their size and scale, to be exempt from review.

To comply with a law passed by the 2012 Washington Legislature and approved by Gov. Chris Gregoire, Ecology’s new rule increases the size and scale thresholds for building projects local governments can choose to be exempt from SEPA review, including:

Small-scale residential housing developments.

Office, school and commercial buildings with adjoining parking lots under a certain size.

Agricultural structures within a specific square footage.

Minor landfill and excavation activities.

The exemption levels will vary depending whether a proposed project would be located in a city, unincorporated areas inside an urban growth area, or in a county that is or is not planning under the state Growth Management Act.

Besides increasing the flexible thresholds for minor construction projects, the new rule also:

Makes the SEPA checklist more efficient by allowing checklists to be submitted electronically to lead state and local agencies and give agencies the ability to skip irrelevant checklist questions when considering changes to plans, programs or policies.

Expands the exemption threshold for electrical utilities from 55,000 to 115,000 volts in existing rights-of-way and developed utility corridors.

Ecology will conduct a second, broader round of SEPA rule revisions later this year.


SEPA rulemaking:


More about SEPA:


Ecology’s website:

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