Another Front in the Climate Change Battle: NEPA Reviews

Waxman-Markey. Boxer-Kerry. Public nuisance litigation. EPA regulation under existing authority. What’s next in the arsenal of weapons against climate change? How about including climate change impacts in reviews under NEPA?

In February 2008, the International Center for Technology Assessment, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club petitioned the CEQ to “clarify” its regulations to require the assessment of potential climate change impacts in environmental reviews performed under NEPA. CEQ has not yet formally responded to the petition, but that hasn’t stopped noted environmentalist Senator James Inhofe (R. Okla.) from weighing in preemptively. Calling NEPA a “bedrock environmental statute,” Senator Inhofe has informed Nancy Sutley, CEQ Chairwoman, that NEPA “is not an appropriate tool to set global climate change policy.” It’s not obvious to me why a bedrock environmental statute shouldn’t be used to address the impacts of climate change.

In any case, whether Senator Inhofe is correct or not, it seems likely that CEQ will eventually take some action, whether by guidance or regulation, to require inclusion of climate change assessments into NEPA reviews. Moreover, this is yet another area of climate change policy in which the federal government will be following the laboratories of democracy, the states, rather than leading. As we have previously reported, a number of states, including California, Massachusetts, and New York, already require GHG assessments in reviews under their state NEPA analogues.

Going forward, those planning large projects, whether the projects are public or private and whether they are state or federal, should expect to have to assess the climate change impacts, including whether alternatives to the project are available that would have reduced climate change impacts.

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