The White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released an important directive to federal agencies on August 1, the final guidance for considering climate impacts in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. The document directs agencies to consider climate in all NEPA evaluations, including any in process and not yet finalized.
Now Buckeye Forest Council, Athens County Fracking Action Network, Heartwood, and Center for Health, Environment, and Justice have sent an e-mail to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) officials who are evaluating plans to frack the Marietta Unit of the Wayne, Ohio’s only National Forest. The directive should make the BLM and FS pause in their issuance of a final BLM Environmental Assessment (EA) and on the consent process, to be undertaken by USFS officials, that would follow issuance of this EA. The directive is clear: an EA in process should be re-evaluated “if this would inform the consideration of differences between alternatives or address comments raised through the public comment process with sufficient scientific basis that suggest the environmental analysis would be incomplete without application of the guidance, and the additional time and resources needed would be proportionate to the value of the information included.”
The many hundreds of public comments submitted to the Wayne and BLM documenting the significant risks of fracking to the climate and to SE Ohio’s water, air, and economy should make the agencies’ decision to follow the directive a no-brainer.
The groups’ e-mail states in part, “It is clear that this directive directly and immediately impacts your process and must be considered….Please note especially, echoing our many comments to you during the comment period, from p. 11 of the directive: ‘…a statement that emissions from a proposed Federal action represent only a small fraction of global emissions is essentially a statement about the nature of the climate change challenge, and is not an appropriate basis for deciding whether or to what extent to consider climate change impacts under NEPA. Moreover, these comparisons are also not an appropriate method for characterizing the potential impacts associated with a proposed action and its alternatives and mitigations because this approach does not reveal anything beyond the nature of the climate change challenge itself: the fact that diverse individual sources of emissions each make a relatively small addition to global atmospheric GHG concentrations that collectively have a large impact.’
“Also especially noteworthy (p. 9): ‘Consistent with NEPA, Federal agencies should consider the extent to which a proposed action and its reasonable alternatives would contribute to climate change, through GHG emissions, and take into account the ways in which a changing climate may impact the proposed action and any alternative actions, change the action’s environmental effects over the lifetime of those effects, and alter the overall environmental implications of such actions.’ (emphasis added)
“Also (p. 13): ‘In order to assess effects, agencies should take account of the proposed action – including “connected” actions– subject to reasonable limits based on feasibility and practicality. Activities that have a reasonably close causal relationship to the Federal action, such as those that may occur as a predicate for a proposed agency action or as a consequence of a proposed agency action, should be accounted for in the NEPA analysis.’ Regarding any further consideration by the USFS of its apparent plan to consent to lease: Clearly a consent to lease predicates ghg emissions that must be considered in the EA.
“And p. 15: ‘When conducting the analysis, an agency should compare the anticipated levels of GHG emissions from each alternative – including the no-action alternative – and mitigation actions to provide information to the public and enable the decision maker to make an informed choice.’ (emphasis added)
“p. 21 addresses a subject that commenters have addressed with you extensively: ‘For example, a proposed action may require water from a stream that has diminishing quantities of available water because of decreased snow pack in the mountains, or add heat to a water body that is already warming due to increasing atmospheric temperatures. Such considerations are squarely within the scope of NEPA and can inform decisions on whether to proceed with, and how to design, the proposed action to eliminate or mitigate impacts exacerbated by climate change.'”