ANALYZING CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE NEPA PROCESS: What impact will Executive Order 13783 have on federal agencies’ NEPA reviews?
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that federal agencies consider the combined, incremental effects of human activity, or the “cumulative impacts,” in their environmental reviews to ensure that “the range of actions that is considered in NEPA documents include[s] not only the project proposal but also all actions that could contribute to cumulative impacts.” Perhaps no cumulative impact has been as difficult to quantify and analyze from a NEPA perspective as the effect of a project’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on global climate change. Whether and how to analyze the cumulative global climate change impacts of a particular project has been fraught with controversy and this policy friction has been played out at the highest levels of government. The previous presidential administration “advanced guidance and initiatives designed to eliminate or minimize [GHG] emissions and to address climate change.” A change in our presidential leadership has resulted in a fundamental shift in environmental policies, including how federal agencies are to consider a particular project’s impacts on climate change. “One of the keys to the Trump administration’s efforts to undo former President Barack Obama’s climate change legacy has been to alter the way the government calculates the future cost of carbon emissions.”
On March 28, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order No. 13783 titled, “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” The Executive Order (EO) seeks to “promote clean and safe development of our Nation’s vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation.” To achieve this goal, the EO requires executive departments and agencies to “immediately review [and appropriately suspend, revise, or rescind] existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.” Relevant to this paper, the EO:
(1) instructs the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to rescind its final guidance document “Final Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change in National Environmental Policy Act Reviews,” (CEQ Final Guidance);
(2) disbands the Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases (IWG) and withdraws documents issued by the IWG related to the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC);
(3) requires agencies to use OMB Circular A-4 (dated September 17, 2003) (Circular), “when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations, including with respect to the consideration of
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