Use law on environmental impact statements to assess global warming implications of federal actions


A new report by the Center for American Progress proposes that the next President issue an Executive Order requiring climate change to be included as a consideration under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  “Government responsibilities are jeopardized by the lack of information about the consequences of federal actions for the emission of greenhouse gases and adaptation to changing climatic conditions,” the report says. Existing federal and state environmental laws and regulations—especially NEPA, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act— provide the requisite legal authority to begin to mitigate and adapt to climate change. “It is not necessary to wait for new legislation to take action.”

The Center for American Progress, in its report, Full Disclosure: An Executive Order to Require Consideration of Global Warming Under the National Environmental Policy Act, says (p.2):

Unfortunately, executive branch agencies have largely failed to recognize and act to address the implications of climate change for their areas of responsibility….

Indeed, the U.S. government currently lacks a systematic process for evaluating the consequences of federal actions for greenhouse gas emissions or vulnerability to changing climatic conditions. This situation contributes directly to a critical gap in information needed to make decisions about the costs and consequences of federal actions for global warming.

Over the past decade, the lack of such assessments might once have been accepted as a product of scientific uncertainty or, perhaps, personal or political ideology. Today, however, the failure to consider these issues approaches negligence in the stewardship of public resources. This paper examines how another foundational environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act, should be applied to fill this critical information gap by requiring the consideration of global warming in environmental assessments of federal actions.

NEPA is designed to provide full disclosure of the environmental effects of federal actions to the government and to the public. The law is intended to ensure that decision-makers are armed with a complete understanding of the environmental impacts associated with such decisions. Failure to systematically consider global warming under NEPA undermines this goal. That’s why the federal government must clarify NEPA’s authority to ensure that global warming is systematically considered during environmental assessments of federal actions, rather than relying upon a series of litigation challenges to force attention to this issue, as is currently the case. The government should not waste its limited resources defending the notion that information about climate change is not relevant to decision-makers or the public.” [emphasis added]

The Bush Administration has been doing precisely this—wasting limited time and taxpayer dollars avoiding the truth and averting public attention from the realities of climate change—and to this day continues to interfere with the communication of information crucial to adequate planning and preparedness for climate change impacts. The recent “stealth release” of a Climate Change Science Program report identifying a set of serious likely impacts of climate change on the transportation infrastructure in the Gulf coast region is just one more case in point.  (See our post on this here.) 

Remedying the “critical gap in information” is a key component of Climate Science Watch’s National Climate Change Preparedness Initiative.

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