Federal agencies must disclose how their actions will impact climate change, according to White House guidance issued today.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) final guidance updates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their actions prior to making decisions.
The update takes NEPA a step further and asks agencies to quantify projected greenhouse gas emissions in their project reviews “whenever the necessary tools, methodologies, and data inputs are available.” It also asks them to consider alternatives that will make communities more resilient to climate change.
The guidance follows six years of work to update the 1970 law. Since the CEQ first proposed climate change modifications to NEPA in 2010, Republican lawmakers have argued the changes would be a way for the Obama administration to regulate carbon emissions without congressional approval, Reuters reports.
In a statement announcing the update, the CEQ said “the final guidance is another big step in the Administration’s effort to consider how all types of federal actions will impact climate change and identify opportunities to build climate resilience.”
Michael Drysdale, an environmental attorney at Dorsey & Whitney, says the new guidance is not legally binding on federal agencies.
“However, federal agencies that depart from its recommendations may be vulnerable to legal challenge if they do not provide a clear and reasoned explanation for their decisions,” he said. “As such, the guidance is likely to be the starting point for future NEPA analyses, and interested parties will likely stress in comments on draft NEPA documents those sections of the guidance that favor their respective positions on the need for more (or less) rigorous analysis of climate change effects. As such, the guidance will ultimately be important additional factor in NEPA reviews and litigation over the adequacy of such reviews.”