A NEPA-Climate Paradox: Taking Greenhouse Gases Into Account in Threshold Significance Determinations
51 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2009 Last revised: 9 May 2013
Date Written: April 15, 2009
The looming prospect of unprecedented, unrestrained global climate change has taken hold of the national consciousness as a crisis of epic proportion. Given the very serious threats global climate change poses to the human environment and a rising tide of public concern, climate seems both an appropriate and obvious subject for consideration under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). In fact, it would seem to be a no-brainer. Over a decade ago, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) drafted guidance finding climate change reasonably foreseeable and an appropriate subject for NEPA assessment. Likewise, few if any federal courts hearing NEPA climate related challenges have expressed doubt that global warming presents a proper subject for analysis under NEPA (although some have ruled against NEPA impact statement preparation on other grounds). Yet, just because NEPA's relevance to the problem of climate change has legal grounding and common sense appeal, does not make its application simple.
This article, starting with the assumption that NEPA should and does extend to climate concerns, examines some of the muddled, messy, and complicating aspects of actually integrating climate considerations into NEPA's procedural framework and offers some suggestions as to how to accomplish integration.
Keywords: climate, climate change, greenhouse gases, NEPA, National Environmental Policy Act, environmental impact statements, CEQ, Council on Environmental Quality, threshold significance determinations
JEL Classification: K10, K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation