The Biden administration on Friday issued new guidance for incorporating greenhouse gas emissions into federal agencies’ environmental reviews, replacing Obama-era guidelines that had been withdrawn by the Trump administration.
The guidance from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) follows a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rule from April. It also updates the Obama-era guidance to factor in updated climate science.
The updated guidance further directs agencies to use a “rule of reason,” in which more impactful projects are subject to more in-depth analyses.
“Disclosing and reducing emissions will ensure we’re building sustainable, resilient infrastructure for the 21st century and beyond,” CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory said in a statement. “These updated guidelines will provide greater certainty and predictability for green infrastructure projects, help grow our clean energy economy, and help fulfill President Biden’s climate and infrastructure goals.”
Climate advocates called the guidance an improvement and important step forward but said it should be a first step for further action.
Evergreen co-founder and senior adviser Sam Ricketts called the initial Obama-era guidance “pretty weak” even before the Trump administration withdrew it. The new guidance, he said, makes “significant improvements” in how federal agencies incorporate climate impacts.
“It also incorporates some innovation in how agencies can look to streamline projects that will actually reduce climate pollution, thinking about how NEPA could be streamlined for clean energy projects or projects that will actually be climate solutions,” he said.
However, Ricketts said, not only could the guidance include more comprehensive instruction for agencies, “this is just guidance for agencies, which is critically important, but it’s not really a requirement that they use that guidance and truly evaluate climate impacts as part of a project.”
Environmentalists, he said, hope to see the results of more concrete NEPA rule-making from CEQ in the near future.
“Guidance is only as impactful as it’s used by agencies on projects in actual legal processes,” he said. “And so it’s going to be incumbent on the administration to make sure that happens.”