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White House Proposes Vetting Projects for Climate Change
From the Wall Street Journal of Thu, 18 Dec 2014 21:57:14 EST
Current law requires the government to consider local environmental concerns about projects.
Current law requires the government to consider local environmental concerns about projects. Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON—The White House is calling on federal agencies to consider the climate-change impact of a wide range of energy projects that require government approval.

The draft guidelines, released Thursday by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, are likely to affect fossil-fuel projects the most, such as pipelines, terminals that export coal and liquefied natural gas, and production of oil, natural gas and coal on public lands.

Business and energy interests complained when the White House signaled almost three years ago that it planned such a change that it could slow federal reviews. Some congressional Democrats support the move.

The guidance doesn’t affect the Keystone XL pipeline, whose review already has considered climate change, according to an administration official.

The draft guidance spells out how different agencies, such as the Interior Department, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Army Corps of Engineers, should consider the greenhouse-gas emissions of projects that require environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. It also encourages agencies to consider alternatives that have smaller carbon footprints.

If an agency determines it doesn’t want to weigh such climate impacts, it must explain why not.

Current law requires the government to consider local environmental concerns about projects, but not global problems such as climate change.

“Climate change is a fundamental environmental issue, and the relation of Federal actions to it falls squarely within NEPA’s focus,” states the guidance, while acknowledging that climate is a “particularly complex challenge given its global nature.”

How significant of an impact the guidelines could have will become clearer as projects go through the normal government review with this additional consideration. The White House is seeking comment for 60 days and then will issue final guidance, though it wasn’t clear when that would occur.

This guidance updates and expands a similar but narrower proposal the White House issued in 2010 but never completed. The earlier guidelines came in response to a petition the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club filed in 2008 under the Administrative Procedure Act, a law that governs how the agencies propose rules and regulations.

“We remain concerned, as we were in 2010, about any expansion of NEPA that could inject even more uncertainty and delay into an already challenging permitting process,” said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington-based trade association.

Support from some of Capitol Hill’s most vocal proponents of climate action came quickly on Thursday.

“It’s a smart step that creates a more comprehensive climate strategy, and the Obama administration is once again showing their commitment to tackle climate change,” said Sen. Edward Markey (D., Mass.).

NEPA, first enacted in 1970 by then-President Richard Nixon, a Republican, is considered one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws. It requires environmental reviews—known as environmental impact statements—on proposed federal approvals of different kinds of projects, especially ones involving infrastructure or energy.

Write to Amy Harder at amy.harder@wsj.com



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