Friday, February 19, 2010

Draft Guidance On Climate Change & NEPA And More

Feb 18: The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposed four steps to modernize and reinvigorate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), in conjunction with its 40th Anniversary. According to an announcement, the measures will assist Federal agencies to meet the goals of NEPA, enhance the quality of public involvement in governmental decisions relating to the environment, increase transparency and ease implementation. 

    Enacted in 1970, NEPA is a cornerstone of the Nation's efforts to protect the environment and a fundamental tool to harmonize economic and environmental aspirations. It recognizes that many Federal activities affect the environment and mandates that Federal agencies consider the environmental impacts of their proposed actions before acting. NEPA emphasizes public involvement in government actions affecting the environment by requiring that the benefits and the risks associated with proposed actions be assessed and publicly disclosed.

    To modernize NEPA, CEQ has issued draft guidance for public comment on: (1) when and how Federal agencies must consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in their proposed actions; (2) clarifying appropriateness of "Findings of No Significant Impact" and specifying when there is a need to monitor environmental mitigation commitments; (3) clarifying use of categorical exclusions; and (4) enhanced public tools for reporting on NEPA activities. The following is a brief summary of the four issues.

    Consideration of Greenhouse Gases - CEQ is releasing draft guidance for public comment on when and how Federal agencies must consider greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change in their proposed actions. CEQ has been asked to provide guidance on this subject informally by Federal agencies and formally by a petition under the Administrative Procedure Act.  The draft guidance explains how Federal agencies should analyze the environmental impacts of GHG emissions and climate change when they describe the environmental impacts of a proposed action under NEPA. It provides practical tools for agency reporting, including a presumptive threshold of 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from the proposed action to trigger a quantitative analysis, and instructs agencies how to assess the effects of climate change on the proposed action and their design.  The draft guidance does not apply to land and resource management actions and does not propose to regulate GHG. CEQ is receiving public comment on this guidance for 90 days.
    Clarifying "Finding of No Significant Impact" - Many Federal actions receive an environmental review, known as an Environmental Assessment. In those instances, NEPA compliance is usually completed with a "Finding of No Significant Impact" (FONSI) on the environment, thus a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement is not required. The draft guidance clarifies that the environmental impacts of a proposed action may be mitigated to the point when the agency may make a FONSI determination.  When the FONSI depends on successful mitigation, however, such mitigation requirements should be made public and be accompanied by monitoring and reporting. The draft guidance also applies to monitoring and reporting of mitigation commitments agencies make in an EIS and Record of Decision. CEQ has released this draft guidance for 90 days of public comment. 
    Clarifying Use of Categorical Exclusions - Many Federal actions do not have significant effects on the environment. When these actions fall into broad categories of activities, agencies may apply a "categorical exclusion" from further NEPA review. The draft guidance clarifies the rules for categorical exclusions and ensures that there is a concise public record when agencies apply them.  While CEQ previously has sought public comments on this matter, this guidance provides additional clarifications, so additional public comment will be received for 45 days.
    Enhanced Public Tools for Reporting on NEPA Activities - Technology has greatly enhanced the government's transparency and accountability and these tools have improved the quality of governmental decision-making, including decisions made following a NEPA analysis. CEQ has updated its public NEPA website, and is providing a wide range of information about NEPA through this portal.  CEQ continues to upgrade this site to include the status of reviews of agency NEPA guidance, Recovery Act NEPA reporting, and real-time NEPA review status.  These upgrades are designed to improve public participation and the quality of Federal agency administration of NEPA.
    Access an announcement with links to the full text of the guidances and links to commenting procedures (click here). Access the NEPA website (click here). Access links to various CEQ initiatives (click here).