By Juliet Eilperin
The White House proposed Friday that federal agencies no longer have to take a project’s long-term climate impacts into account when assessing how they will affect the environment, reversing a major Obama administration policy.
The draft guidance, issued by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, would change the way the U.S. government evaluates activities ranging from coal mining to gas pipelines and oil drilling by limiting the extent to which agencies can calculate their greenhouse gas emissions. In April 2016, CEQ finalized a directive that agencies quantify to what extent they will contribute to climate change, a move that threw approval of those projects into doubt.
Now, according to the new directive, agencies conducting reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) only have to calculate an action’s greenhouse gas emissions when “a sufficiently close causal relationship exists” between a project and greater carbon emissions. It also tells agencies they can opt not to assess a project’s climate impact if they decide it “would be overly speculative,” and they can put any projected emissions in the context of the local, regional or national carbon output.
Because prior court cases have required agencies to take climate change into account, the new guidance is trying to finesse that and require them not to do very much, said Mark Templeton, who directs the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago.
“The guidance provides a blueprint for agencies seeking to minimize the costs of greenhouse gas emissions by counseling them to present emissions as an inevitably minuscule percentage of total global emissions,” Templeton said in an email.
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