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Comments to Council on Environmental Quality on Interim Guidance on Considering Climate Change Under NEPA

In January, the Council on Environmental Quality published interim guidance providing best practices to federal agencies on the consideration of climate change in environmental reviews conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act. The guidance provides helpful direction to agencies on assessing how proposed actions and their alternatives (1) will contribute to climate change through their greenhouse gas emissions; and (2) will potentially be affected or have their environmental consequences exacerbated by climate change impacts.

Our comment commends CEQ on its thorough guidance and provides recommendations to strengthen both areas. With regard to assessing a project’s greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts, our comment offers numerous recommendations to further ensure that agencies do not inappropriately minimize significant greenhouse gas emissions. This includes narrowing application of the rule of reason, providing further guidance on best practices for substitution analysis and use of the social cost of greenhouse gases, and directing agencies to consider policy objectives and social needs broadly and not define project purpose and need based solely on the applicant’s own goals.

Our comment also offers suggestions for improving the guidance’s recommendations on climate vulnerability and resilience. These include cautioning agencies not to treat climate impacts as insignificant merely because they are uncertain or difficult to analyze, providing further guidance on assessing local climate impacts including the use of downscaled data, and recommending that agencies consider a range of potential climate change scenarios supported by credible scientific evidence rather than focusing only on optimistic projections.