Friday, March 5, 2010

CEQ Guidance on NEPA Requirements for Climate Change

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), has issued three draft guidance documents related to the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),. The new guidance, issued in draft for public comment, directs how federal agencies are to:

  • Consider the effects of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in agency decision-making;
  • Use mitigation to reduce or avoid impacts, and monitoring their effectiveness; and
  • Establish and apply categorical exclusions.

Public comments on the proposed GHG and mitigation guidance documents will be accepted for 90 days after they are printed in the Federal Register, and comments on the categorical exclusion guidance will be accepted for 45 days.

NEPA requires federal agencies to publicly disclose and consider the environmental consequences of their actions and of private actions requiring federal permits or approvals. It is a process-oriented statute and is not prescriptive in nature. NEPA does not mandate specific environmental results and grants federal agencies broad discretion to determine the extent of environmental protection required for proposed actions.

In the draft GHG guidance, CEQ proposes a framework on when and how to evaluate GHG emissions, and how to evaluate the effect of climate change on the project. The GHG guidance indicates that as part of the initial scoping process, agencies should determine whether a project requiring federal approval will result in “meaningful” GHG emissions, and suggests that emissions greater than 25,000 metric tons may meet this test. Emissions above this level would warrant at least some qualitative or quantitative discussion in NEPA documents.

The GHG guidance also recognizes that there are no existing federal protocols for estimating emissions associated with land use and land management decisions. It also recognizes that determining the reasonably foreseeable impacts of land management decisions on GHG emissions may be difficult.

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