CEQ Releases Guidance on Incorporating Climate Change Considerations into NEPA Review

UPDATED 08.05.2016 with link to Federal Register notice.

On August 2, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced the release of Final Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change in National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] Reviews.  The guidance builds off of draft guidance released in 2010 and 2014, and outlines methods for federal agencies to quantify, describe, and consider the potential impacts on and effects of climate change into their NEPA review.

The guidance is applicable to all Federal actions subject to NEPA review for which a final Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has not been issued. But if a NEPA process is already in the EIS or EA preparation stage, agencies are asked to balance whether “the additional time and resources needed [to apply the guidance] would be proportionate to the value of the information included.” While CEQ does not expect the guidance to result in the development of new NEPA implementing procedures, agencies are asked to review their existing NEPA procedures and update as appropriate.

The guidance states explicitly that it “does not—and cannot—expand the range of Federal agency actions that are subject to NEPA.” The guidance also does not establish a particular quantity of greenhouse gas emissions that would “significantly” affect the quality of the human environment.  Nor does the guidance require an agency to select the alternative with the lowest net level of emissions or to monetize costs and benefits.  Furthermore, agencies (and project proponents) are not required to fund or conduct original climate change research.  Rather, in developing their analyses, they can “summarize and incorporate by reference the relevant scientific literature.”

The recommendations in the guidance include the following:

  • Agencies should use the projected direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions associated with the proposed action as a proxy for assessing the action’s potential effects on climate change.  However, because “the totality of climate change impacts is not attributable to a single action … a statement that emissions from a proposed Federal action represent only a small fraction of global emissions … is not an appropriate basis for deciding whether or to what extent to consider climate change impacts under NEPA”;
  • If an agency determines that tools are not reasonably available to quantify the impacts on climate change, “the agency should provide a qualitative analysis and its rationale for determining that the quantitative analysis is not warranted”;
  • The analysis of the potential effects on climate change should account for activities that have a “reasonably close causal relationship to the Federal action” and “should take into account both the short- and long-term adverse and beneficial effects using a temporal scope that is grounded in the concept of reasonable foreseeability”;
  • Analyses should include a comparison of “the anticipated levels of [greenhouse gas] emissions from each alternative—including the no action alternative,” and should consider reasonable mitigation measures and alternatives;
  • Analyses of climate change impacts should “focus on those aspects of the human environment that are impacted by both the proposed action and climate change”; and
  • Analyses of land or water management actions should account for potential carbon sequestration, biogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and changes to the carbon stocks.

Notice of the guidance was published in the Federal Register on August 5, 2016.

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