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White House Draft NEPA Guidance Unlikely to Reduce Delays and Litigation for Infrastructure Projects

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The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and several other free market groups submitted comments on the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) Draft National Environmental Policy Act Guidance on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Draft NEPA Guidance). Joined by Americans for Limited Government, the Rio Grande Foundation, the Independence Institute, the Center of the American Experiment, and Citizens Against Government Waste, CEI’s comment finds the Draft NEPA Guidance an “incremental improvement” over the Obama CEQ Guidance, but points out that it fails to articulate why NEPA is fundamentally ill-suited to climate-related policy goals.

The Draft NEPA guidance stems from a March 28, 2017 Executive Order meant to “review existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources and appropriately suspend, revise, or rescind those that unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources.” Unfortunately, the Draft NEPA Guidance, while improving on the Obama guidance, “still allows for extensive consideration of climate impacts and is unlikely to appreciably reduce the delays and litigation surrounding fossil energy-related projects.” 

The comments also point out that NEPA guidelines apply to individual projects, which do not generate sufficient emissions to have any effect on climate change. 

The groups conclude:

“Mitigating climate change one project at a time is a fool’s errand akin to draining a swimming pool one thimbleful at a time...Congress did not direct CEQ to make climate policy, and NEPA review is unsuited for addressing climate change concerns. Accordingly, project-related GHG emissions should not be a factor determining whether agencies approve or reject project proposals...

“CEQ should advise agencies to limit NEPA reviews to emissions for which the project is primarily responsible and eschew consideration of upstream and downstream emissions, which may occur anywhere in the national or global economy; and decline to base decisions on social cost of carbon estimates, which are intractably speculative and highly susceptible to political manipulation.”

You can read the full comment letter here.

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