A scenic mountain landscape in the fall.

NEPA Guidance

The Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act (NEPA) is a foun­da­tion­al envi­ron­men­tal statute that requires that fed­er­al agen­cies con­duct envi­ron­men­tal reviews pri­or to under­tak­ing major fed­er­al actions – such as con­struct­ing a high­way – that sig­nif­i­cant­ly affect the envi­ron­ment. NEPA reviews pro­vide the pub­lic the oppor­tu­ni­ty to offer mean­ing­ful input on pro­posed fed­er­al ini­tia­tives, and often require that the rel­e­vant agen­cies adopt mea­sures to mit­i­gate the impact of projects on com­mu­ni­ties, wildlife and nat­ur­al resources.


  • 2016

    In 2016, the Coun­cil on Envi­ron­men­tal Qual­i­ty (CEQ) issued guid­ance to assist fed­er­al agen­cies in con­sid­er­ing the effects of green­house gas (GHG) emis­sions and cli­mate change under NEPA when eval­u­at­ing pro­posed fed­er­al actions. The guid­ance instruct­ed agen­cies, when address­ing cli­mate change, to con­sid­er the poten­tial effects of a pro­posed action on cli­mate change by assess­ing GHG emis­sions and the effects of cli­mate change on a pro­posed action and its envi­ron­men­tal impacts.

2017-2021

  • April 2017

    In April 2017, the CEQ with­drew its August 2016 GHGs and cli­mate change guidance. 

  • June 2019

    In June 2019, the CEQ released a brief three-page draft guid­ance to replace the ear­li­er August 2016 guid­ance. The draft guid­ance indi­cat­ed that agen­cies should attempt to quan­ti­fy a pro­posed action’s pro­ject­ed indi­rect GHG emis­sions, but did not pro­vide guid­ance on how to cal­cu­late indi­rect GHG emis­sions. The CEQ also insist­ed that agen­cies do not need to employ the social cost of car­bon (SCC) met­ric to deter­mine the costs asso­ci­at­ed with a pro­posed fed­er­al action, but sug­gest­ed that the employ­ment ben­e­fits of a pro­posed fed­er­al action should be quan­ti­fied because they could be eas­i­ly quantified.

  • August 2019

    In August 2019, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Xavier Becer­ra led a coali­tion of nine­teen attor­neys gen­er­al in fil­ing com­ments in oppo­si­tion to the draft guid­ance. The com­ments warned that the draft guid­ance does not take the threat of cli­mate change seri­ous­ly” and not­ed that fail­ing to pro­vide guid­ance on how agen­cies are to ana­lyze indi­rect cli­mate change effects under NEPA fails to sat­is­fy the statute’s man­date to pro­vide a hard look” review of the var­i­ous alter­na­tives for a fed­er­al action. The attor­neys gen­er­al insist­ed that the draft guidance’s one-sided approach to cost-ben­e­fit analy­sis – quan­ti­fy­ing ben­e­fits, but for­sak­ing the SCC – of fed­er­al actions vio­lates NEPA’s com­mand­ment that when agen­cies choose to quan­ti­fy the ben­e­fits of a pro­posed action, the agency must also quan­ti­fy the costs of an action when a quan­ti­fy­ing tool, such as the SCC, is available.