Some types of projects and some agency actions have been exempted from the requirements of SEPA by the Legislature. These “statutory exemptions” are contained in state law, Chapter 43.21C RCW. The table below summarizes all of the statutory exemptions contained in the SEPA statute as of 2017. Please check the statute for any exemptions adopted after this date. Please remember that this is a summary and the entire exemption must be reviewed before determining if a proposal is exempt from SEPA review.
In addition to the statutory exemptions, the Legislature directed rulemaking for types of projects or agency actions that are not subject to SEPA review because the size or type of the activity is unlikely to cause a significant adverse environmental impact. (Refer to SEPA Rules Part Nine.)
Examples of categorically exempt minor projects include construction of four dwelling units or less, commercial buildings with 4,000 square feet or less of gross floor area and no more than 20 parking spaces, and water and sewer facilities related to lines twelve inches or less in diameter. Examples of specific types of agency decisions that are exempt include short plat subdivisions, forest practice class I,II, and III, public property transactions, and business licenses.
Many exemptions for minor new construction or minor land use decisions do not apply when:
Most categorical exemptions use size criteria to determine if a proposal is exempt. The SEPA Rules allow cities and counties to raise the exemption limit for minor new construction to better accommodate the needs in their jurisdiction. The exemptions may be raised up to the maximum specified in the SEPA Rules (WAC 197-11-800(1)(c)). For example, cities and counties may choose to exempt residential developments at any level between 4 and 30 dwelling units in the urban growth area. The exemption for commercial buildings can range between 4,000 and 30,000 square feet. These "flexible thresholds" must be designated through ordinance or resolution by the city or county. If this has not been done, the minimum level applies.
The exemption level set by the county or city will also apply when an agency other than the county or city is lead agency. A state agency or special district may need to consult with the county or city to identify the adopted exemption level for a particular area.
It is also important to remember that the exemptions for minor new construction and minor land use decisions do not apply if any portion of the proposal/decision involves lands covered by water, if a license is needed for a discharge to air or water, or if a rezone is required. (WAC 197-11-800(1)(a) and (2)).
Cities and counties are required to designate critical areas under the Growth Management Act (GMA). Critical areas are wetlands, aquifer recharge areas, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, frequently flooded areas, and geologically hazardous areas. To ensure adequate environmental review of development within these areas, cities and counties may also designate in their SEPA procedures categorical exemptions that do not apply within each critical area. (Refer to WAC 197-11-908 for the list of exemptions that can be eliminated.)
An emergency exemption can be granted by a lead agency when: