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Future Watch – How Will NEPA Be Used For Climate-Change Policies?

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a federal law that requires all major federal “actions” to consider the environmental impacts of their decisions.  For example, if a highway is being built, a NEPA analysis (an Environmental Impact Study or EIS) is required to be performed to determine the impact of that project to the environment.  The NEPA analysis also highlights alternative approaches to the project.

Some environmentalists are starting to look at NEPA as a new tool to push climate change issues.  Environmental groups have recently petitioned to amend NEPA to make it mandatory to address climate change as part of the NEPA analysis.  NEPA already requires that an EIS include evaluations of energy consumption.  The petitions have requested that NEPA regulations also require the project to be analyzed in terms of its emissions of global warming gases and impacts to future climate change.  As Seth Kaplan of the Conservation Law Foundation stated, “NEPA was intended to be, and can be, a vehicle for fundamentally questioning the purpose of the project.”

Environmental professionals and others involved in NEPA should keep abreast of any future changes to the law and might start investigating how global warming and future climate change can be evaluated for projects.  California (surprise, surprise) already has stricter regulations for NEPA than federal legislation and might serve as a useful indicator as to where NEPA regulations might progress in the future.

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