WHITE HOUSE

NEPA climate guidance expected soon -- CEQ chief

SAN FRANCISCO -- A presidential initiative directing federal agencies to consider climate change when conducting project reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act is on its way and should be published shortly, the White House's top environmental adviser said yesterday in an interview.

Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality, said White House staff have been "working hard" to review public comments and expect to release the proposal in its final form sooner rather than later. She would not be more specific on the anticipated release date, saying only that it would be "soon."

The proposal was first unveiled in draft form in February, but CEQ has been unable to complete its work because the need arose for a comprehensive review of NEPA procedures related to offshore drilling in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Sutley said. But she appeared to say a final draft could emerge any day.

"Our NEPA folks have been a little busy," she said. "We're all working really hard to get this strategy out."

The draft guidance released earlier this year said agencies should consider carrying out a quantitative climate change analysis for any proposed federal action that would cause 25,000 metric tons or more of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Agencies would need to look at emissions that may be produced by projects such as a landfill or coal-fired power plant and would have to weigh climate change effects on infrastructure projects.

CEQ staff had been separately working on a report that outlined flaws in the government's NEPA process in approving the well that caused the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. That report was published in August (E&ENews PM, Aug. 16).

In Congress, House Republicans have floated legislation meant to block the NEPA initiative on climate change, arguing that the law is not the proper venue to document, predict or mitigate climate effects of specific federal actions. H.R. 5342, from Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), would explicitly state that review of climate change or greenhouse gas emissions is not required under NEPA.

Sutley yesterday said the White House has reached out to members of Congress concerned that President Obama is attempting to covertly advance climate regulations through new NEPA guidelines. She insisted the effort is not meant to be a regulation or replace comprehensive climate and energy legislation.

"We have tried to reiterate to those members of Congress that this is not a regulation program," she said.

Sutley's remarks came during and after an appearance here at the Commonwealth Club's "Climate One" forum.

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