The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released a guidance document on Aug. 2 requesting that all federal agencies consider the effect of a project’s greenhouse gas emissions on the climate and the effect of climate change on the project when completing an environmental review.
The guidance is not a legal requirement for agencies, but may help agencies coordinate in terms of climate impacts, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI).
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) President Rhea Suh supported the move, saying that federal agencies, “shouldn’t approve mines that will destroy the climate, or bridges that will get washed away.” Enforcement of the guidance document will depend heavily on the next administration.
The guidance addresses a number of topics under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), according to an analysis by the K&L Gates Law Firm. These include:
- CEQ’s continuing position that federal agencies should include consideration of GHG emissions and climate change impacts in NEPA alternatives analyses;
- CEQ’s elimination of its 25,000 ton per year CO2-equivalent emissions threshold for triggering the guidance and replacement requirement that agencies instead consider the direct and indirect effects of all actions;
- CEQ’s clarification on the inclusion of GHG emissions from direct and indirect effects in a NEPA analysis; and
- CEQ’s reduced emphasis on the cost-benefit analysis and social cost of carbon.
“Federal agencies likely will attempt to comply with CEQ’s guidance, though we expect that given the discretion that CEQ affords agencies in the Final Guidance, agencies’ implementation of the guidance is likely to be inconsistent,” the Gates law firm said.
“These agencies will delay completion of their NEPA reviews to resolve any confusion arising out of CEQ’s directives,” according to Gates. “Despite the agencies’ efforts to comply, litigation is likely and it is possible that industry, environmental interest groups, or both will point to the Final Guidance to argue in a federal court appeal that an agency has or has not complied with NEPA.”