Tamar Hallerman
GHG Monitor

A group of Senate Republicans called on the Obama Administration this week to drop draft guidance requiring federal agencies to consider the impact of major energy projects on climate change during the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permitting process. In an April 22 letter to White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairwoman Nancy Sutley, 33 Republicans headed up by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-La.) recommended that the Administration withdraw the draft guidance, which is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks. If implemented as proposed, the lawmakers said, the guidance would be a “clear deviation from [NEPA’s] intent.” “Such a requirement would dramatically expand the scope of NEPA and is inconsistent with the intentions of the statute,” the letter states. “Efforts to regulate GHGs using the NEPA process will cause significant delays in permitting projects and slow our nation's economic recovery.”

The lawmakers said NEPA is a “procedural statute focused on giving federal agencies and the public a better understanding of the environmental impacts of a project,” and not a law meant to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. “Moving forward with this guidance ... adds a cumbersome and obtuse GHG requirement to the permitting process for projects that would not face similar scrutiny in nations with which the United States competes for investment, such as China, India or Russia,” the letter says. The senators accused the Administration of aiming to use NEPA as a “backdoor method” of regulating carbon emissions. According to the GOP senators, legal precedent shows that NEPA analyses are required exclusively for issues that “can be directly and proximately linked to the stated impact of the proposed action that is being examined.” “Because it is impossible to directly and proximately link GHG emissions from a particular project to global climate change, requiring analysis and mitigation falls outside the scope of NEPA's purpose and process,” they said.

Feds Would Assess Projects’ Impact on Climate

The Republican senators sent the letter to Sutley as reports indicate that the Obama Administration is gearing up to soon finalize the climate guidance, first proposed by CEQ in early 2010. Other signatories include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). As proposed, the guidance would direct all federal agencies to consider the impact of major projects on climate change under the NEPA process. It would also require agencies to quantify each project’s projected emissions, as well as the potential impacts of global warming on a planned project. Stakeholders currently appear split on the impacts such guidance could have on major carbon capture and storage projects that are required to go through the NEPA process.