Biden-Harris Administration Releases New Guidance to Disclose Climate Impacts in Environmental Reviews
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) today released updated Guidance on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change to help Federal agencies better assess and disclose climate impacts as they conduct environmental reviews, delivering more certainty and efficiency in the permitting process for clean energy and other infrastructure projects. This step, directed by Executive Order 13990, Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis, advances President Biden’s commitment to restore science in Federal decision making, fight climate change, and build resilient infrastructure.
As Federal agencies review and build new infrastructure and clean energy projects, including those funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, the updated guidance will improve sustainability while keeping environmental reviews focused and efficient. The guidance – which CEQ is issuing as interim guidance and is available for public comment – provides more clarity and predictability for conducting reviews, including highlighting existing tools and best practices.
The updated guidance also improves transparency in the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions, including the appropriate use of the social cost of greenhouse gases to disclose climate impacts, provides specific recommendations for renewable and low greenhouse gas projects to keep reviews focused, and makes projects more climate-smart and resilient while helping reach President Biden’s goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
“Disclosing and reducing emissions will ensure we’re building sustainable, resilient infrastructure for the 21st century and beyond,” said CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory. “These updated guidelines will provide greater certainty and predictability for green infrastructure projects, help grow our clean energy economy, and help fulfill President Biden’s climate and infrastructure goals.”
The new guidance builds on the final “Phase 1” National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rule issued in April 2022, which restored clarity to key provisions of the NEPA regulations. It also builds on the Biden-Harris Administration’s Permitting Action Plan, which outlines the Administration’s strategy for ensuring that Federal environmental reviews and permitting processes are effective, efficient, and transparent, guided by the best available science to promote positive environmental and community outcomes, and shaped by early and meaningful public engagement.
The guidance replaces 2016 emissions guidance that was withdrawn by the previous Administration. CEQ’s new climate change guidance recommends that agencies account for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in NEPA reviews. It provides Federal agencies a common approach for assessing their proposed actions, while recognizing each agency’s unique circumstances and authorities. Specifically, the guidance:
- Updates the 2016 guidance consistent with developments in climate science, caselaw, and the urgency of the climate crisis;
- Emphasizes a “rule of reason” that the depth of analysis should be proportional to a project’s impacts and clarifies that projects that will reduce GHG emissions, such as certain renewable and low GHG projects, can have less detailed GHG emissions analysis;
- Clarifies best practices for analyzing climate change effects, including by clarifying the need to quantify indirect emissions, which will help projects avoid legal setbacks and provide transparency to help drive climate-smart decisions;
- Recommends best practices for communicating and providing context for climate impacts, such as by noting relevant climate action commitments and goals and using the social cost of GHGs to generate monetary estimates of climate impacts;
- Recommends that agencies mitigate GHG emissions to the greatest extent possible;
- Advances environmental justice by encouraging agencies to meaningfully engage with affected communities and incorporate environmental justice considerations into climate-related analysis; and,
- Supports broad scale or programmatic approaches that can make later reviews more efficient.
CEQ’s Guidance on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change is available for public comment through March 10, 2023.