August 3, 2016

Whitehouse Statement on CEQ’s Final Climate Guidance for Federal Agencies Conducting NEPA Review

Washington, DC – The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has issued its final guidance for federal agencies to use in assessing the effects of their actions on our climate during National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who has long pushed for the Obama Administration to develop clear guidance on factoring climate effects into the NEPA review process, released the following statement on the CEQ’s action:

“The faster you’re going, the better your headlights need to be.  To avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we need to know how our decisions will affect our climate and future generations.  For years, I’ve been calling for the White House to include climate considerations in the guidance for federal agencies conducting NEPA review.  I’m glad to see that guidance finalized.

“I’ve also called for using the social cost of carbon during NEPA review to measure the damage greenhouse gas emissions will cause for future generations.  Unfortunately, the CEQ left whether to use this powerful tool up to agency discretion.  That’s a missed opportunity.”

The NEPA review process requires federal agencies to consider and disclose publicly the possible effects of their decisions on the environment.  The new guidance requires review and disclosure of actions that can result in increased emissions of the greenhouse gases that drive climate change.  Federal actions can also be affected by climate-related factors, such as rising sea levels, extreme weather events, drought, and wildfire.

The CEQ’s final 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 science when assessing proposed actions.

As part of their recommendations to the Administration for meeting the objectives set out in President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, Whitehouse and his colleagues on the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change wrote in a white paper to the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2013 that “Estimating the greenhouse gas effects of projects undergoing NEPA review will help the federal government and public understand the full range of impacts associated with energy development on federal lands.” Whitehouse also signed a letter to the Administration last year urging the CEQ to finalize NEPA climate guidance that incorporates the social cost of carbon—an estimate of the economic damages associated with an increase in carbon dioxide emissions—into project reviews.

The CEQ issued draft climate guidance in 2010 and revised draft guidance in 2014.


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