Climate Change Under NEPA: Avoiding Cursory Consideration of Greenhouse Gases

72 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2009 Last revised: 23 Sep 2015

See all articles by Amy L. Stein

Amy L. Stein

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: February 14, 2010

Abstract

Neither the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) nor its implementing regulations require consideration of climate change in NEPA documentation. Yet an evergrowing body of NEPA case law related to climate change is making it increasingly difficult for a federal agency to avoid discussing the impacts of those emissions under NEPA in its Environmental Impact Statements (“EISs”). Although consideration of climate change in NEPA documents sounds right in theory, within the current legal framework, the NEPA documents provide only lip service to the goals of NEPA without any meaningful consideration of climate change. An empirical evaluation of two years of selected EISs demonstrates that the degree of “consideration” is far from meaningful, an outcome that fails to reflect the purposes behind NEPA. As a result, the nation is left with more paperwork and more greenhouse gas emissions.

This Article concludes that inclusion of climate change in NEPA documentation is inevitable, but that within the current judicial interpretations of NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act, litigation has reached its maximum effectiveness to elicit meaningful consideration of climate change. It makes recommendations for fortifying NEPA with concrete requirements to address this new challenge, including a recommendation that all but de minimis greenhouse gas emissions be considered significant under a NEPA analysis.

Keywords: National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA, environmental impact statement, EIS, EA, BLM, climate change, carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases

Suggested Citation

Stein, Amy L., Climate Change Under NEPA: Avoiding Cursory Consideration of Greenhouse Gases (February 14, 2010). University of Colorado Law Review, Vol. 81, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1444166

Amy L. Stein (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States
352-273-0953 (Phone)

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