On January 6th, the White House Council of Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) released a new Guidance on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change (“the Guidance”) in permitting decisions, with significant implications for energy and infrastructure projects. Though this Guidance is effective as of the date of publication, it was issued on an interim basis and CEQ will consider comments until March 10th, after which it could be revised further.
CEQ’s recommendations will influence the Biden Administration’s analysis of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions in environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), applying immediately to all newly proposed actions as well as some on-going NEPA reviews. While the Guidance is largely framed as a series of recommendations rather than requirements, it highlights best practices for environmental reviews that could help expedite project completions, improve agency decision making, and minimize litigation risks for developers. Ultimately, CEQ is trying to ensure that agencies and project developers pay sufficient attention to climate impacts, without causing unwarranted delays to agency decision-making, particularly considering that accelerating clean energy infrastructure is a key component of the Biden Admiration’s climate agenda.
The Guidance seeks to foster a greater understanding of GHG impacts and the tradeoffs among alternatives, thus raising expectations around the quality of federal GHG analyses. Project developers will want to work closely with federal regulators to ensure the sufficiency of agency NEPA reviews. Failures to do so may provide project opponents a pathway to litigation.