Opponents of NEPA climate guidance hoping for Republican White House

By Hannah Northey | 05/12/2015 06:42 AM EDT

Manufacturers and lobbyists yesterday said it may take a Republican in the White House to reverse draft federal climate guidance that they believe will stall new gas pipelines and export terminals.

Manufacturers and lobbyists yesterday said it may take a Republican in the White House to reverse draft federal climate guidance that they believe will stall new gas pipelines and export terminals.

Republicans are unlikely to muster enough support to block the Obama administration’s new plan for how federal agencies should integrate climate change into their National Environmental Policy Act reviews, lobbyist and former GOP aide Mike Catanzaro told attendees at an event on Capitol Hill.

But a Republican administration come 2017 could get the job done, said Catanzaro, a partner with lobbying firm CGCN Group who previously worked for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.).


"I would think the Republicans would come in and one of the first things on their agenda at [the White House Council on Environmental Quality], I would think, would be to toss this out," said Catanzaro, who also held top environmental jobs in the George W. Bush administration.

Catanzaro said a Republican president would need to build the case for why the guidance should be rescinded — a move he supports.

Catanzaro made the comments ahead of a House Natural Resources Committee hearing tomorrow to examine the revised draft guidance the CEQ issued in December after years of delay. The CEQ guidance seeks to streamline how agencies address the causes and effects of climate change when permitting projects (E&E Daily, May 11).

The draft has drawn the support of environmentalists. They note the purpose of the guidance is to create a uniform policy for how agencies across the government incorporate climate change into NEPA implementation. Currently, some agencies consider its effects fully when permitting projects, and some do not.

But Republicans, natural gas producers and other industry advocates worry that the restrictions would stymie economic development on federal lands and make it impossible to build needed infrastructure, including transmissions and pipelines.

Catanzaro joined Greg Bertelsen, the director of energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, in warning that the guidance could open projects to new environmental lawsuits and delays.

Once finalized, agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which coordinates environmental review of gas and electric infrastructure, would be required to quickly implement the guidance, and that will have reverberations for projects under review, Catanzaro said.

Other analysts have raised similar concerns. Christi Tezak, managing director of research at ClearView Energy Partners LLC, said in December that the proposed guidance could encourage FERC, which conducts reviews of gas pipelines, compressor stations and export terminals, to expand its scope of upstream and downstream effects of projects, as was done with the Keystone XL pipeline (Greenwire, Dec. 19, 2014). The commission is currently reviewing the guidance.

Catanzaro and Bertelsen argued that the guidance would inject NEPA reviews with uncertainty, cost and delays. Bertelsen said it already takes years for project developers to complete NEPA reviews, and even then the decisions are open to lawsuits.

"The open-ended directive and draft guidance to consider upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions is particularly concerning in its potential to vastly increase litigation challenges to NEPA analysis," Bertelsen said.

But they both acknowledged the answer may not come from Capitol Hill.

When asked about including such language in a bipartisan, comprehensive energy bill that both chambers of Congress are currently crafting, Catanzaro expressed doubt that language to halt the CEQ draft guidance would survive in the new air of bipartisanship.

While Republicans have called the CEQ guidance dangerous for new energy infrastructure, Democrats are pushing the administration to do more.

Last month, dozens of House Democrats told Christy Goldfuss, CEQ’s managing director, that they strongly supported the draft guidance and called for the CEQ to direct agencies to account for the social cost of carbon emissions in their decisions (Greenwire, April 28). The draft guidance says the social cost of carbon may be used in NEPA decisions but does not require agencies to do so. The Democrats said it should.

A divisive measure to halt the guidance isn’t likely to be taken up as the House and Senate craft energy bills, Catanzaro said.

"Congress is trying to move bills that have bipartisan support and deal with controversial bills outside of that context," he said. "There’s no way Democrats would ever allow a provision to move forward that took greenhouse gases out of NEPA in some way."