NEPA’s Footprint: Information Disclosure as a Quasi-Carbon Tax on Agencies

62 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2012 Last revised: 7 Dec 2017

See all articles by Sarah E. Light

Sarah E. Light

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School - Legal Studies & Business Ethics Department

Date Written: August 10, 2012

Abstract

The National Environmental Policy Act’s information disclosure requirements have the potential to create a quasi-carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions arising out of major federal actions. By requiring government polluters to expend more resources, both financial and political, on disclosure as project-related emissions increase, NEPA can operate like a carbon tax that forces agencies to internalize negative externalities associated with emissions.

Federal agencies routinely undertake actions with enormous potential to affect the Earth’s climate. When the predicted impacts of such actions on the environment are significant, NEPA demands that the agency prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to disclose and assess those impacts. Outside of the climate change context, NEPA’s onerous disclosure requirements for significant impacts create incentives for agencies to reduce the impacts of their actions on the environment to avoid these burdens. Due to pervasive uncertainty as to what NEPA requires agencies to disclose in the climate change context, however, NEPA’s potential to spur agencies to reduce or mitigate emissions remains unrealized.

Without amending the existing statute or regulations, the White House Council on Environmental Quality can and should structure NEPA’s burdens and reporting boundaries on a sliding scale to mimic key structural features of a Pigouvian carbon emissions tax. The marginal costs of greater emissions should be payable in increased reporting specificity and breadth, with concomitant economic and political costs. This approach will harness NEPA’s substance to combat global climate change.

Keywords: Climate change, carbon tax, emissions, greenhouse gases, carbon footprint, social cost of carbon, NEPA, agencies, informational regulation, environmental law, regulation

Suggested Citation

Light, Sarah E., NEPA’s Footprint: Information Disclosure as a Quasi-Carbon Tax on Agencies (August 10, 2012). 87 Tul. L. Rev., 511 (2013), Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 289, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2127648

Sarah E. Light (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School - Legal Studies & Business Ethics Department ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
Suite 600
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
148
Abstract Views
933
rank
222,357
PlumX Metrics