Lessons Between the Lines in Fed's Final Guidance for Evaluating Climate Change Impacts in NEPA Documents

By: David L. McGrath
– Environmental Leader

On August 1, 2016, after nearly six years and two drafts, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a final version of its guidance for considering greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (Final Guidance). CEQ previously released its initial draft guidance in February 2010 and a revised draft guidance in December 2014.

Like the previous drafts, the Final Guidance primarily reinforces the fundamental tenets of NEPA as applied to climate change. It offers little practical advice in attributing climate change effects to a particular federal action, and validates the broad discretion of individual federal agencies to tailor their NEPA reviews as they see fit. By its own admission, the Final Guidance is not a rule or a regulation, and the recommendations “may not apply to a particular situation.” Nevertheless, several important lessons become evident in the most recent changes.

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