CEQ issues draft guidance for considering GHGs under NEPA

The White House Council on Environmental Quality proposed guidance for considering greenhouse gas impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act on June 21.

Jun 24th, 2019

The White House Council on Environmental Quality proposed guidance for considering greenhouse gas impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act on June 21. It would replace guidance that became final on Aug. 1, 2016, that was withdrawn on Apr. 5, 2017, in response to a Mar. 28, 2017, executive order promoting energy independence and economic growth. Comments will be accepted for 30 days following the proposed guidance’s scheduled publication in the June 24 Federal Register.

Officials at the American Petroleum Institute, Natural Gas Supply Association, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, and American Gas Association each welcomed CEQ’s action. Howard J. Feldman, API regulatory and scientific affairs senior director, said it was an important step in streamlining and clarifying the scope of GHG reviews under NEPA.

“NEPA, which is a procedural statute only, increasingly has been misused to delay and prevent development, which negatively affects jobs, tax revenue, and investments in communities across the country,” Feldman said. “In addition to the economic benefits of natural gas development, the increased use of gas has played a key role in driving down emissions to their lowest levels in a generation.”

NGSA Pres. Dena Wiggins said, “We applaud the administration for their diligence in ensuring more Americans have access to affordable energy through a thorough, thoughtful, and reasonable NEPA process. This draft guidance will provide a clearer roadmap of what agencies’ environmental reviews should entail, which should foster fewer delays in permitting decisions for energy infrastructure.”

Charlie Riedl, executive director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, an NGSA division, said, “With multiyear, billion-dollar projects at stake, certainty is key for the US LNG industry. Today’s draft is a strong step toward providing more clarity in the environmental review process that hopefully will reduce unnecessary permitting delays.”

Guided by regulations, reason

“We agree that NEPA analyses need to be guided not only by the regulations, but also a rule of reason,” INGAA said in a statement.

“As CEQ has acknowledged, agencies are not required under NEPA to engage in a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed action. Further, Social Cost of Carbon estimates were created for rulemaking purposes and are not appropriate tools to use in the context of an individual project-specific NEPA analysis.

“We agree that reasonably foreseeable emissions should only be quantified if it is practicable to do so using available data and tools,” it continued. “For example, it makes sense to use existing GHG inventory information to provide context regarding the relative magnitude of the GHG emissions from the proposed action. Agencies should utilize readily available information, rather than expending additional time and resources to conduct new research or analyses.”

AGA Pres. Karen A. Harbert agreed that CEQ’s proposed guidance would facilitate environmentally responsible gas pipeline construction. “Streamlining and clarifying the permitting process helps the natural gas industry provide timely, safe, reliable and affordable service to the 178 million Americans who enjoy the benefits of gas and the millions more who want it, but do not yet have access,” she said.

CEQ’s draft guidance particularly would help focus agency resources on evaluating the reasonably foreseeable greenhouse gas impacts of agency permitting decisions, rather than expending resources on evaluating remote or speculative matters that do not have a sufficiently close causal relationship with an agency’s permitting decision, Harbert said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@endeavorb2b.com.

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