President Barack Obama is preparing to tell all federal agencies for the first time that they have to consider the impact on global warming before approving major projects, from pipelines to highways.
The result could be significant delays for natural gas- export facilities, ports for coal sales to Asia, and even new forest roads, industry lobbyists warn.
“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) The standards, which constitute guidance for agencies and not new regulations, are set to be issued in the coming weeks, according to lawyers briefed by administration officials.
This takes Congress out of the picture and allows the administration to act independently. There will be law suits, and high courts will have to decide if ruining the planet by releases a particular gas is the same as, well, ruining the planet by releasing a different gas under a law that says that you can’t do any of that.
In fact, some Environmental Impact work already considers climate change effects, but this would make the practice widespread and uniform across all Federal agencies.
While the scope of the old NEPA law is broad, it’s bite is rather shallow. Using the law may serve to give more voice to opponents to projects, and delay project, but not require them to change their design an may hardly stop a project. But in some cases this may be what is needed. For example, in the case of Fracking, the length of time required for regulatory effects to take place is longer than the rapidity with which projects can slip under the radar, so much of the fracking we are ever going to do in some regions will be done before Regulators finish their first cup of coffee. Where NEPA applies, it would serve as a net trapping this sort of para-regulatory behavior on the part of industry.
On the other hand, if NEPA is interpreted and implemented with more bite, there could be straight forward, direct effects, causing the long term favoring of low Carbon emission projects over the worst polluters.
Is this a salve to be applied to a large gaping wound in Obama’s environmental policy caused by approving Keystone, or is it one of several steps towards developing an impressive legacy in environmental affairs, to come along side NOT approving Keystone?
We’ll see. Soon.