CEQ releases final climate-change guidance for agencies’ NEPA reviews

The US White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued its final guidance to federal agencies on how to consider climate-change impacts of their decisions during National Environmental Policy Act reviews. The US Chamber of Commerce and Center for LNG (CLNG) separately responded with warnings that CEQ’s Aug. 2 action could create more regulatory hurdles for new transportation and other projects.

CEQ said the final guidance makes proposed project reviews more certain and predictable by outlining how federal agencies can describe climate impacts by quantifying potential greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during 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,” it said.

CEQ said that the guidance also:

• Advises agencies to quantify proposed federal actions’ projected GHG emissions whenever the necessary tools, methodologies, and data inputs are available.

• Encourages agencies to draw on their experience 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.

• Reminds agencies to use existing information and science when assessing proposed actions.

The final guidance builds off of 2010 draft guidance and 2014 revised draft guidance, and reflects consideration of comments and feedback received on both documents, CEQ said. Finalization of the 2014 revised draft guidance was specifically called for by the State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience’s recommendations to the US President Barack Obama, it said.

In an Aug. 2 response, Bruce Josten, the US Chamber’s executive vice-president for government affairs, said the country’s largest business organization supports NEPA’s fundamental goal of making sure environmental impacts are considered in federal actions. But the Chamber also is concerned that the expansion of authority goes beyond environmental protection and hands special interests another tool to stop infrastructure activities and land management activities in their tracks, he continued.

“We are still reviewing the final guidance, but under the new requirements getting approval for projects and land decisions will almost certainly be more challenging,” Josten said. “This will obstruct our ability to build badly needed infrastructure of all kinds and render the investments that are being talked about on the campaign trail meaningless. From railroads, bridges, and highways, to energy, forests, and land management—permits will be more difficult to obtain.”

CLNG Executive Director Charlie Reidel also warned that CEQ’s final guidance will increase, instead of reduce, regulatory uncertainty and hold the domestic LNG industry back at a time when it faces heavy competition from projects in other countries that are coming online rapidly.

“In the interest of lowering global [GHG] emissions, the US government should support American LNG exports. There is considerable evidence demonstrating that natural gas is poised to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions significantly,” Reidel said. “American LNG has an important role to play in the ongoing discussion about reducing global emissions and being a supplier of this strategic fuel is an opportunity that the US should embrace.”

An American Petroleum Institute spokesman said on Aug. 3 that while the nation’s largest oil and gas trade association is reviewing CEQ’s new final guidance, “it’s important to note that the US is leading the world in reduction of carbon emissions, which are near 20-year lows, while leading the world in the production of oil and gas.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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