White House Revokes Trump-Era Guidance on Greenhouse Gas Impacts

February 19, 2021 Updated: February 19, 2021

The White House on Thursday revoked Trump administration guidance that sought to limit the use of “remote or speculative” environmental consequences of greenhouse gas effects on major projects like highways and pipelines.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) rescinded the Trump administration’s 2019 draft National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidance, which called on federal agencies to consider only “reasonably foreseeable environmental consequences” of major infrastructure projects, while excluding those that are “remote or speculative.”

In adopting its guidelines, the Trump administration argued that limiting the consideration of climate impacts by agencies would result in faster and more efficient environmental reviews of energy and other projects required under NEPA rules.

“A projection of a proposed action’s direct and reasonably foreseeable indirect GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions may be used as a proxy for assessing potential climate effects,” the Trump-era guidance said.

“Agencies are not required to quantify effects where information necessary for quantification is unavailable, not of high quality, or the complexity of identifying emissions would make quantification overly speculative,” it said.

The 2019 guidance aimed to replace Obama-era guidelines, which gave agencies more discretion in how much weight to give to greenhouse gas emission impact projections in environmental reviews. It also gave them more leeway in choosing how to quantify the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

“This guidance preserves agency discretion and recognizes agencies’ abilities to evaluate the facts in the NEPA review at hand and determine how GHG emissions and climate change should be taken into account, the appropriate depth and scope for meaningfully comparing alternatives, and the appropriate GHG emission quantification tools,” the Obama-era guidelines said.

While the Trump-era guidelines sought to limit indirect greenhouse gas impact projections only to those that are “reasonably foreseeable,” the Obama-era rules did not make this distinction.

Under the Biden administration, the CEQ is expected to prioritize the impacts of climate change.

The White House said in a statement on Thursday that it will review and “as necessary, revise and update” the Obama-era greenhouse gas impact policy.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Jan. 27 that put the “climate crisis” at the center of U.S. foreign policy and national security, and reversed former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.

“Responding to the climate crisis will require both significant short-term global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and net-zero global emissions by mid-century or before,” Biden wrote in the order, adding that, under his administration, “the United States will exercise its leadership to promote a significant increase in global climate ambition to meet the climate challenge.”

Actions under this policy include establishing a Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, convening climate summits, and pursuing various decarbonization policies.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @OZImekTOM