The bold new move by the White House was covered in a March 15th Bloomberg report. The guidelines will be issued in the coming weeks and would apply across-the-board to all federal reviews. This directive will play a decisive role on a wide range of projects from highways to gas permits and it may well be the determining factor challenging the Keystone XL pipeline.
The fact that Obama is resurrecting Nixon’s ghost to advance his environmental policy is very significant. If nothing else, some younger Republicans may be forced to look back on the long forgotten environmental accomplishments of Republican presidents.
The Obama administration’s new standards expand the scope of a law signed by President Richard Nixon more than 40 years ago. This law is known as the National Environmental Policy Act, (NEPA), it forces agencies to assess project impacts on air, water and soil and publish the impacts before making decisions.
This was meant to give citizens and environmentalists an opportunity to comment before regulators act. The new guidelines will change the way NEPA reviews are conducted and may include projects on federal lands which were previously exempted.
Two of the things that might come from the new NEPA guidelines are reviews that factor both greenhouse gases and vulnerably to extreme weather like flooding and drought. Although details are still unclear, full reports will only be required for large scale projects (25,000 metric tons of CO2e emissions or more annually).
What appears to be clear is the fact that projects will not be stopped directly by the White House, instead we are likely to see lawsuits against federal projects which will set legal precedence that cannot be rescinded by subsequent by subsequent administrations.
Since CEQ first announced its proposal, more than three dozen federal approvals were challenged on climate grounds, including a highway project in North Carolina, a methane-venting plan for a coal mine in Colorado, and a research facility in California.
The fact that all new large scale projects could be forced to conduct in-depth lifecycle reviews has many environmentalists rejoicing. Predictably the news was greeted with derision by lobbying groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Petroleum Institute and the National Mining Association. All of whom would prefer to avoid climate change considerations altogether.
“It’s got us very freaked out,” said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington-based group that represents 11,000 companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Southern Co. (SO). Corporations that still live in a fantasy land that excludes environmental considerations have reason to be “freaked out.” But whether they like it or not the future beckons and they will be forced, some of them kicking an screaming, into a new era of responsible corporate conduct.
Lawyers and lobbyists are now waiting for the CEQ to complete its review before details of the new standards and guidelines are released.
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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