By Visiting Professor Jeffrey Thaler
Back in the early days of the American College of Environmental Lawyers, then-incoming President Brad Martin had asked interested Members to work with Lexis Nexis in developing some treatises on a range of topics.
I agreed to the request and in 2010 authored a treatise entitled “Treatment of Greenhouse Gases Under the National Environmental Policy Act”, which addressed the then-recently released (February 2010) White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Draft Guidance on consideration of climate change and greenhouse gases in NEPA environmental reviews. In the conclusion I said:
With the prospects for comprehensive, economy-wide regulations on greenhouse gas emissions uncertain, climate change will continue to be addressed under existing environmental laws, including NEPA and its state-level counterparts. It has become increasingly clear that project proponents and lead agencies will be hard-pressed to avoid evaluating greenhouse gas emissions and other climate-related impacts attributable to public and private development projects. But disparate treatment across federal and state jurisdictions has left agencies and developers struggling with when and how to evaluate such impacts in their environmental review documents. Despite a growing body of regulations, case law, and guidance, substantial uncertainty remains regarding the scope, type, and depth of analyses required of climate change effects under NEPA and state analogues.
Little did I know or even suspect that the “disparate treatment” would continue unabated for another 5-plus years. The Draft Guidance was intended to be finalized in 2011, but the final version would not be released until the waning days of the Obama Administration. The CEQ has now issued its 34-page Final Guidance, which expressly requires all Federal agencies to include climate change in their analysis of environmental impacts.
In sum, the Final Guidance (at 4-6):
“[r]ecommends that agencies quantify a proposed agency action’s projected direct and indirect GHG emissions, taking into account available data and GHG quantification tools that are suitable for the proposed agency action; Recommends that agencies use projected GHG emissions (to include, where applicable, carbon sequestration implications associated with the proposed agency action) as a proxy for assessing potential climate change effects when preparing a NEPA analysis for a proposed agency action; Recommends that where agencies do not quantify a proposed agency action’s projected GHG emissions because tools, methodologies, or data inputs are not reasonably available to support calculations for a quantitative analysis, agencies include a qualitative analysis in the NEPA document and explain the basis for determining that quantification is not reasonably available; Discusses methods to appropriately analyze reasonably foreseeable direct, indirect, and cumulative GHG emissions and climate effects; Guides the consideration of reasonable alternatives and recommends agencies consider the short- and long-term effects and benefits in the alternatives and mitigation analysis; Advises agencies to use available information when assessing the potential future state of the affected environment in a NEPA analysis, instead of undertaking new research that is, and provides examples of existing sources of scientific information; Counsels agencies to use the information developed during the NEPA review to consider alternatives that would make the actions and affected communities more resilient to the effects of a changing climate; …and Counsels agencies that the “rule of reason” inherent in NEPA and the CEQ Regulations allows agencies to determine, based on their expertise and experience, how to consider an environmental effect and prepare an analysis based on the available information.”
How many of our LexisNexis recommendations were reflected in the Final Guidance I cannot yet say. But one moral of this tale is that College members may be able to direct a spotlight on needed changes in environmental regulating, even when those wheels of justice grind exceeding slow.