Obama issues federal climate change guidance opponents fear will add delays to road, bridge projects

Updated Aug 16, 2016

Earlier this week, the Obama administration issued the final emissions and climate change guidance that broadens the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), requiring agencies to analyze what the impact of activities that require federal permits might be, not just on the environment, but also on “projected direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions,” the Washington Times reports.

The White House described the guidance as “another big step in the administration’s effort to consider how all types of federal actions will impact climate change and identify opportunities to build climate resilience.”

According to the Washington Times, Republicans “blasted” the guidance as another power grabbing end-of-term executive action and arguing it would lead to even more federal regulations that could further restrict economic growth.

“This will result in significant new litigation exposure that will slow or block most every major activity requiring NEPA approval,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, Utah Republican, according to the news agency. “When any emissions equals bad and bad equals denied, you can kiss energy independence goodbye.”

Myron Ebell, director of the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment, told the news agency that NEPA is “already a nightmare” that has resulted in projects on both public and private lands being “delayed to death.” She added, “requiring that the direct, indirect and cumulative climate impacts be included in an EIS means that the recommended option for most projects will be no action—that is, not to build it. The NEPA climate guidance document, at a minimum, adds another obstacle to building any major new project in this country from bridges to mines to housing and shopping developments.”

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), called the guidance a “game changer” on cutting off projects in the name of climate protection. â€śNow federal agencies must fully and properly analyze the climate impacts of their proposed actions before deciding on how to proceed,” she said in an NRDC statement. “They shouldn’t approve mines that will destroy the climate, or bridges that will get washed away.”

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James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, argued that the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) lacks the authority to issue the guidance, because the panel has not had a Senate-confirmed chairman since Feb. 2014. â€śFurther, even if there were a Senate-confirmed Chairman of CEQ, global climate change falls outside of the scope of NEPA so the guidance has no legal basis,” Inhofe said in a statement.

According to the Times report, Christina Goldfuss, CEQ managing director, argued that the climate change “is a fundamental environmental issue, and its effects fall squarely within NEPA’s purview.”

Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, released a statement saying he was concerned that the guidance “has handed special interests another tool to stop infrastructure development and land management activities in their tracks. This will obstruct our ability to build badly needed infrastructure of all kinds and render the investments that are being talked about on the campaign trail meaningless. From railroads, bridges, and highways to energy, forests, and land management—permits will be more difficult to obtain.”