On Friday, January 6, the White House issued its long awaited guidance telling federal agencies how to consider climate impacts on permitting decisions. The guidance details the need to make sure the depth of analysis undertaken by the agency is proportional to a project’s impact. The document also gives agencies authority to perform a less detailed analysis for projects that are deemed to reduce emissions, such as clean energy projects, as well as encouraging agencies to engage with affected communities, and to factor in environmental justice considerations in their analysis.
The new guidance is designed to work in concert with the Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) final rule from last April requiring federal agencies to consider the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of a permit decision under the National Environmental Policy Act. The CEQ’s rule includes a consideration of project’s climate change impact, as well as the consequences of additional pollution in communities that are already overburdened. The instructions in the new guidance document were deemed necessary by the CEQ in order to fortify agency decisions against legal challenges. The new instructions are immediately effective, but still open for public comment through March 10. For more information, please contact one of the attorneys in SGR’s environmental practice group.