- The White House Council on Environmental Quality's interim greenhouse gas emissions guidance released Friday will ease the permitting process for clean energy projects, according to renewable energy trade groups.
- The guidance clarifies best practices for analyzing GHG emissions and climate effects in National Environmental Policy Act reviews, streamlines reviews for some renewable energy projects and recommends that federal agencies mitigate carbon dioxide emissions to the greatest extent possible, the Sierra Club said.
- “The guidance appropriately recognizes that agency resources and time should not be spent reviewing the relatively minor and short-term greenhouse gas emissions associated with construction of clean energy projects and infrastructure that will provide large net emissions reductions,” the American Clean Power Association said in a statement.
The guidance aims to provide greater clarity and more consistency in how agencies address climate change in NEPA reviews, according to the CEQ.
It calls on agencies to use the “rule of reason” when determining how much analysis to conduct when reviewing proposed projects.
“Absent exceptional circumstances, the relative minor and short-term GHG emissions associated with construction of certain renewable energy projects, such as utility-scale solar and offshore wind, should not warrant a detailed analysis of lifetime GHG emissions,” the CEQ said.
In another example, the council said that for actions with only small GHG emissions, agencies may be able to rely on less detailed emissions estimates.
The guidance calls for agencies to quantify the “reasonably foreseeable” direct and indirect GHG emissions of a proposed action, the no action alternative and any reasonable alternatives.
It does not establish any particular quantity of GHG emissions as “significantly” affecting the quality of the human environment, the CEQ said.
The guidance calls for using the “best available” social cost of GHG estimate – a measure that puts a dollar value on harm caused by climate change – to help put the emissions from a proposed action into context. “This is a simple and straightforward calculation that should not require additional time or resources,” the CEQ said.
The CEQ said the guidance 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 through the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act.
The guidance also encourages agencies to “meaningfully” engage with communities affected by proposed projects and incorporate environmental justice considerations into climate-related analysis.
Under the interim guidance, NEPA reviews continue to be a “disclosure” process, according to ClearView Energy Partners, a research firm based in Washington, D.C.
“We see nothing implying that the CEQ has empowered agencies to select alternatives to proposed projects, but agencies could have more reasons to select ‘no action’ options (deny permits),” ClearView said.
Protracted and adversarial GHG reviews for fossil energy production and related infrastructure could put those projects at a disadvantage compared to lower-emitting resources, the research firm said.
The interim guidance will enable clean energy developers to move forward with projects, particularly on federal lands, Solar Energy Industries Association said.
The interim guidance replaces guidance issued in 2016 that was rescinded by the Trump administration.
Federal agencies can use the interim guidance right away while CEQ accepts public comments on it through March 10.