On June 26, 2019, the Council on Environmental Quality, which oversees NEPA implementation for the federal government, issued a draft guidance memo on how NEPA analysis and documentation should address GHG emissions. It replaces final guidance the Obama CEQ issued in August 2016 on the topic, which the Trump administration withdrew in April 2017.
NEPA calls on federal agencies to conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) for all federal actions--including granting permits--that have a major impact on the environment. While it is a procedural statute only, the process of conducting an EIS can take several years and often results in the scuttling of projects through delay. Where agencies find that a federal action would have no major impact on the environment, they can avoid the EIS process by making a finding of no significant impact (FONSI).
Notable changes from the Obama-era guidance in the new draft guidance memo include instructions that:
- "Agencies preparing NEPA analyses need not give greater consideration to potential effects from GHG emissions than to other potential effects on the human environment."
- Agencies should only "attempt to quantify a proposed action's projected direct and reasonably foreseeable indirect GHG emissions when the amount of those emissions is substantial enough to warrant quantification, and when it is practicable to quantify them using available data and GHG quantification tools."
- "Consideration of effects on the quality of the human environment due to GHG emissions does not require agencies to expand the range of Federal agency actions subject to NEPA or develop new NEPA implementing procedures."
- "[A]n agency need not weigh the effects of the various alternatives in NEPA in a monetary cost-benefit analysis using any monetized Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) estimates and related documents."
The draft guidance also reminds agencies that, pursuant to a March 2017 Executive Order, the Interagency Working Group that came up with a monetized SCC under President Obama was disbanded, and that "the estimates were directed to be withdrawn as no longer representing government policy."
Taken together, these provisions may have the effect of moderately decreasing the environmental impact that federal agencies assign to GHG emissions in their NEPA analyses.
Comments on the draft guidance memorandum are due by July 26, 2019.