The State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA for short, is a system prepared in the 1960s and adopted into state law in the early 1970s that requires all projects (also called actions) to declare the environmental effects on the community within which the development is going to be. This declaration is sent to neighbors within 300 feet of the action. Exceptions are made for certain levels of development, such as single family residences (unless on or next to lands covered by water), office and farm buildings smaller than a certain size, or the amount of soil being added or subtracted from a site – over the lifetime of the project.

The SEPA process allows jurisdictions to use policy documents, such as the comprehensive plan, to require the action to provide certain measures to mitigate the effects (also called mitigation measures).

The process includes the the applicant providing a declaration statement through the use of a standardized environmental checklist, which until recently was the same throughout the state. This checklist is reviewed by the jurisdiction’s Responsible Official. If the project is not exempt from SEPA review, the Responsible Official reviews the project, the environmental checklist, the ground, the jurisdiction’s policies and regulations, and issues one of three determinations:

  • A DNS states that the project as submitted will likely have no detrimental environmental effect on the jurisdiction.
  • An MDNS states that the project likely will have detrimental environmental effects on the jurisdiction unless specific mitigation measures are used to lessen the effects.
  • A DS states that the project as submitted likely will have detrimental environmental effects and no mitigation measure that the jurisdiction can require based on current policies and regulations will sufficiently reduce the measures to an acceptable level. When issued, the applicant must prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS).

Since the initial institution of SEPA, the state passed the Growth Management Act, which requires each jurisdiction planning under the GMA to create and adopt regulations to protect critical areas. This enables each jurisdiction to regulate exempt and non-exempt actions without the use of SEPA.

 The city's rules about SEPA are found in Chapters 12.04 and 12.06, BMC