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Feb 16 -- CEQ extends comment period to April 10, 2023. https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-03257

Jan 9 -- The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is issuing this interim guidance to assist agencies in analyzing greenhouse gas (GHG) and climate change effects of their proposed actions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). CEQ is issuing this guidance as interim guidance so that agencies may make use of it immediately while CEQ seeks public comment on the guidance. CEQ intends to either revise the guidance in response to public comments or finalize the interim guidance. This interim guidance is effective immediately. CEQ invites interested persons to submit comments on or before March 10, 2023.

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issues this guidance to assist Federal agencies in their consideration of the effects of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change when evaluating proposed major Federal actions in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the CEQ Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA (CEQ Regulations). This guidance will facilitate compliance with existing NEPA requirements, improving the efficiency and consistency of reviews of proposed Federal actions for agencies, decision makers, project proponents, and the public. This guidance provides Federal agencies a common approach for assessing their proposed actions, while recognizing each agency's unique circumstances and authorities.

The United States faces a profound climate crisis and there is little time left to avoid a dangerous—potentially catastrophic—climate trajectory. Climate change is a fundamental environmental issue, and its effects on the human environment fall squarely within NEPA's purview. Major Federal actions may result in substantial GHG emissions or emissions reductions, so Federal leadership that is informed by sound analysis is crucial to addressing the climate crisis. Federal proposals may also be affected by climate change, so they should be designed in consideration of resilience and adaptation to a changing climate. Climate change is a particularly complex challenge given its global nature and the inherent interrelationships among its sources and effects. Further, climate change raises environmental justice concerns because it will disproportionately and adversely affect human health and the environment in some communities, including communities of color, low-income communities, and Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities. Given the urgency of the climate crisis and NEPA's important role in providing critical information to decision makers and the public, NEPA reviews should quantify proposed actions' GHG emissions, place GHG emissions in appropriate context and disclose relevant GHG emissions and relevant climate impacts, and identify alternatives and mitigation measures to avoid or reduce GHG emissions. CEQ encourages agencies to mitigate GHG emissions associated with their proposed actions to the greatest extent possible, consistent with national, science-based GHG reduction policies established to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

As discussed in this guidance, when conducting climate change analyses in NEPA reviews, agencies should consider: (1) the potential effects of a proposed action on climate change, including by assessing both GHG emissions and reductions from the proposed action; and (2) the effects of climate change on a proposed action and its environmental impacts. Analyzing reasonably foreseeable climate effects in NEPA reviews helps ensure that decisions are based on the best available science and account for the urgency of the climate crisis. Climate change analysis also enables agencies to evaluate reasonable alternatives and mitigation measures that could avoid or reduce potential climate change-related effects and help address mounting climate resilience and adaptation challenges.

Accurate and clear climate change analysis:

• Helps decision makers, stakeholders, and the public to identify and assess reasonable courses of action that will reduce GHG emissions and climate change effects;
• Enables agencies to make informed decisions to help meet applicable Federal, State, Tribal, regional, and local climate action goals; 
• Promotes climate change resilience and adaptation and prioritizes the national need to ensure climate-resilient infrastructure and operations, including by considering the reasonably foreseeable effects of climate change on infrastructure investments and the resources needed to protect such investments over their lifetime; 
• Protects national security by helping to identify and reduce climate change-related threats including potential resource conflicts, stresses to military operations and installations, and the potential for abrupt stressors; 
• Enables agencies to better understand and address the effects of climate change on vulnerable communities, thereby responding to environmental justice concerns and promoting resilience and adaptation;
• Supports the international leadership of the United States on climate issues; and
• Enables agencies to better assess courses of action that will provide pollution reduction co-benefits and long-term cost savings and reduce litigation risk to Federal actions—including projects carried out pursuant to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

This interim GHG guidance, effective upon publication, builds upon and updates CEQ's 2016 Final Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change in National Environmental Policy Act Reviews (“2016 GHG Guidance”), highlighting best practices for analysis grounded in science and agency experience. CEQ is issuing this guidance to provide for greater clarity and more consistency in how agencies address climate change in NEPA reviews. This guidance applies longstanding NEPA principles to the analysis of climate change effects, which are a well-recognized category of effects on the human environment requiring consideration under NEPA. In fact, Federal agencies have been analyzing climate change impacts and GHG emissions in NEPA documents for many years. CEQ intends the guidance to assist agencies in publicly disclosing and considering the reasonably foreseeable effects of their proposed actions. CEQ encourages agencies to integrate the climate and other environmental considerations described in this guidance early in their planning processes. CEQ will review any agency proposals for revised NEPA procedures, including any revision of existing categorical exclusions, in light of this guidance.

This guidance explains how agencies should apply NEPA principles and existing best practices to their climate change analyses by:

• Recommending that agencies leverage early planning processes to integrate GHG emissions and climate change considerations into the identification of proposed actions, reasonable alternatives (as well as the no-action alternative), and potential mitigation and resilience measures;
• Recommending that agencies quantify a proposed action's projected GHG emissions or reductions for the expected lifetime of the action, considering available data and GHG quantification tools that are suitable for the proposed action;
• Recommending that agencies use projected GHG emissions associated with proposed actions and their reasonable alternatives to help assess potential climate change effects;
• Recommending that agencies provide additional context for GHG emissions, including through the use of the best available social cost of GHG (SC-GHG) estimates, to translate climate impacts into the more accessible metric of dollars, allow decision makers and the public to make comparisons, help evaluate the significance of an action's climate change effects, and better understand the tradeoffs associated with an action and its alternatives;
• Discussing methods to appropriately analyze reasonably foreseeable direct, indirect, and cumulative GHG emissions;
• Guiding agencies in considering reasonable alternatives and mitigation measures, as well as addressing short- and long-term climate change effects;
• Advising agencies to use the best available information and science when assessing the potential future state of the affected environment in NEPA analyses and providing up to date examples of existing sources of scientific information;
• Recommending agencies use the information developed during the NEPA review to consider reasonable alternatives that would make the actions and affected communities more resilient to the effects of a changing climate;
• Outlining unique considerations for agencies analyzing biogenic carbon dioxide sources and carbon stocks associated with land and resource management actions under NEPA;
• Advising agencies that the “rule of reason” inherent in NEPA and the CEQ Regulations should guide agencies in determining, based on their expertise and experience, how to consider an environmental effect and prepare an analysis based on the available information; and
• Reminding agencies to incorporate environmental justice considerations into their analyses of climate-related effects, consistent with Executive Orders 12898 and 14008.
 
FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-00158 [17 pages]

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