Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Obama instructs FERC to review climate impacts of pipelines

A pipeline construction site in Northeast Pa.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A pipeline construction site in Northeast Pa.

The Obama Administration instructed federal agencies to factor climate change impacts into required environmental reviews of large projects. The White House Council on Environmental Quality released its guidance this week, six years after the original draft proposal. The move clarifies reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Under NEPA, projects such as interstate pipelines and LNG export terminals undergo environmental reviews known as environmental impact statements, before gaining federal approval.

“In many cases, Federal actions have the potential to contribute to climate change by producing greenhouse gas emissions or alternatively, be affected by many of the impacts of a changing climate, such as rising sea levels, extreme weather, drought and wildfires,” read a statement released by the White House.

The White House guidance on climate change is just that – guidance. It’s not a new law or regulation and does not require congressional approval. But environmentalists who oppose pipeline projects reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, for example, say it’s a step in the right direction. Raul Garcia is an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice.

“Everybody has a boss,” said Garcia. “This is basically [FERC's] boss telling them this is how to go about doing this kind of analysis. And if they don’t, we hope there would be further measures to make sure that they do.”

The guidance instructs agencies like FERC to calculate the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that will result from a project, and stipulate how to mitigate the damage. It includes both direct and indirect impacts.

On its own, large amounts of carbon emissions won’t necessarily make federal agencies reject projects. But Garcia says it does make important information public.

“Then the public can hold elected officials accountable,” said Garcia.

Republicans oppose the move, saying it will postpone or eliminate important infrastructure projects.

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), which represents the natural gas pipeline industry, had asked the administration to withdraw the guidance. In comments made regarding the draft, INGAA argued the proposed guidance would not legally comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. It also said any one single project could not be linked to global climate change impacts.

“The nature of climate change is such that there is no causal connection—much less a reasonably foreseeable and proximate causal connection—between a single project’s GHG emissions and a climate change-related effect like sea-level rise.”

The industry association also commented that requiring a federal agency to examine the climate change impacts of a pipeline, contradicts the Obama Administration’s support for new infrastructure to transport natural gas to new markets.

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