Today, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released final guidance for Federal agencies on how to consider the impacts of their actions on climate change in their National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews. The guidance is intended to help agencies make informed and transparent decisions about the impacts of climate change associated with their actions.
Under NEPA, Federal agencies are required to consider and disclose the potential effects of their actions and decisions on the environment. In many cases, Federal actions have the potential to contribute to climate change by producing greenhouse gas emissions or alternatively, be affected by many of the impacts of a changing climate, such as rising sea levels, extreme weather, drought and wildfires.
The final guidance outlines how Federal agencies can describe these impacts by quantifying greenhouse gas emissions when conducting NEPA reviews. This increased predictability and certainty will allow decision makers and the public to more fully understand the potential climate impacts of all proposed Federal actions, and in turn, assist agencies in comparing alternatives and considering measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
In addition to providing agencies with a measured approach as to how to describe climate change impacts, the guidance:
- Advises agencies to quantify projected greenhouse gas emissions of proposed federal actions whenever the necessary tools, methodologies, and data inputs are available;
- Encourages agencies to draw on their experience and expertise to determine the appropriate level (broad, programmatic or project- or site-specific) and the extent of quantitative or qualitative analysis required to comply with NEPA;
- Counsels agencies to consider alternatives that would make the action and affected communities more resilient to the effects of a changing climate; and
- Reminds agencies to use existing information and data when assessing proposed actions.
This guidance builds off of a 2010 draft guidance and 2014 revised draft guidance, and reflects consideration of comments and feedback received on both documents. Additionally, finalization of the 2014 revised draft guidance was specifically called for by the State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience’s recommendations to President Obama. The Task Force requested the guidance to ensure that projects and investments include adequate and coordinated consideration of the project design or alternatives in relation to climate impacts and greenhouse gas emissions, and to avoid averse public health, safety, and financial risks for communities.
Background on NEPA Modernization
Since 2010, the Obama administration has been engaged in an effort to modernize Federal agency implementation of NEPA to improve the transparency, involvement of the public, and efficiency of environmental reviews. Efforts include launching a NEPA pilot program to identify and promote more efficient ways to do effective environmental reviews that can be replicated across the Federal Government, forming rapid response teams to help expedite the review process for transportation, transmission and renewable energy projects, and most recently, implementing title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act to expedite the permitting process for major infrastructure projects while improving environmental and community outcomes.