CEQ Finalizes NEPA Regulation Amendments

On July 15, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality finalized an overhaul of regulations governing environmental review under the National Environmental Quality Act (NEPA). The revisions could limit or even eliminate consideration of climate change in several ways. 

Prior to the amendments, NEPA regulations required agencies to consider direct, indirect, and cumulative effects when conducting environmental reviews of proposed projects. The indirect and cumulative effect requirements have led some courts to compel agencies to account for climate change when analyzing the impact of fossil fuel leases and infrastructure projects. The revised regulations collapse the distinction between indirect and direct effects, and expressly eliminate the cumulative effect requirement. This will likely limit the role of climate change in environmental assessment. The revised regulations will also restrict analysis to effects that have a "reasonably close causal relationship" to the proposed project, which could limit consideration of life cycle greenhouse gas emissions or on-the-ground climate change impacts related to the project.

The amendments could also make it easier for agencies to dismiss the significance of impacts caused by fossil fuel projects. NEPA only requires agencies to prepare a full environmental impact statement for projects that may significantly affect the environment. By watering down the definition of "significantly," the revisions could lead agencies to determine that certain fossil fuel projects do not warrant a comprehensive environmental review even if the indirect climate change impacts would be extensive. 

The rule will go into effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.