Climate Guidance for NEPA Reviews

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following.

Why it Matters

This guidance provided standardized guidance for assessing the greenhouse gas footprint of “major federal actions” reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Agencies can use this information to make decisions that reduce the climate impact of projects.

Current Status

President Trump revoked the climate guidance in his Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. Nonetheless, at least one draft environmental review since the Executive Order has included climate impact of a projects greenhouse gas emissions. Some courts have also required agencies to consider the impacts of the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, which implicate climate change. We will follow NEPA documents that continue to consider climate impacts and judicial decisions that require consideration of such impacts in the absence of formal guidance.

History

On February 18, 2010 the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposed guidance to agencies for considering greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in NEPA reviews.

In December, 2014 CEQ updated its proposal for climate change NEPA guidance.

On August 1, 2016 CEQ finalized Guidance on the Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change in NEPA Reviews.

Trump Era

On March 28, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth which directed CEQ to rescind its final climate guidance.

On August 14, 2017, Judge Molloy of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana found that the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement failed to take a “hard look at the indirect and cumulative effects of coal transportation and coal combustion.” The court found that the agency had failed to weigh the costs of additional GHG emissions resulting from the expansion of a coal mine against its economic benefits.

On August 15, 2017 Trump signed an Executive Order that shortens the time for environmental reviews of large federally-funded infrastructure projects. This order also revoked President Obama’s Executive Order 13690, which had required federal agencies to consider sea level rise and flood projections when considering agency actions, including federal funding of infrastructure.

On August 22, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not properly assess greenhouse gas emission impacts of the Southeast Market Pipelines Project, a three-pipeline project including the Sabal Trail pipeline, during its NEPA review. The court found that FERC should have provided an “estimate of the downstream greenhouse emissions that will result from burning the natural gas that the pipelines will transport or explained more specifically why it could not have done so.” On January 31, 2018, the D.C. Circuit declined to review its August decision.

On May 18, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a 3-2 decision to not consider climate change impacts of natural gas production (“upstream” emissions) and consumption of the gas (“downstream” emissions) during the NEPA process for proposed natural gas pipelines.

For more information

For more on the history of this rule see its entry in the Columbia University Sabin Center for Climate Change Law’s database. Also see Sabin’s Climate Deregulation Tracker for additional updates.

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