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Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Issues Revised Guidance for Climate Change Analysis in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Reviews

By Mr. Al Herson

Get the latest analysis on the Council on Environmental Quality's revised draft guidance on climate change analysis in NEPA reviews. The article reviews the major provisions of the draft guidance, including analyzing greenhouse gas impacts of proposed actions and the effects of climate change on such actions. This article appears as the Lead Article in the March 2015 issue of California Environmental Law Reporter (Matthew Bender).


On December 18, 2014, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released revised draft guidance on climate change analysis in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews. The draft guidance supersedes earlier draft guidance issued in 2010. A lengthy preamble to the 2014 draft guidance responds to comments received on the 2010 guidance, and notes major changes made in the 2014 draft guidance. Public comments on the 2014 draft guidance were due by February 23, 2015.

The 2014 draft guidance (hereinafter "draft guidance") addresses both the proposed action's impacts on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the implications of climate change on the environmental effects of a proposed action. The draft guidance is not intended to create new or additional regulatory requirements, but rather provides advice based on the existing NEPA regulatory framework. The draft guidance, once finalized, would apply to new lead agency actions going forward. However, CEQ encourages lead agencies, "to the extent practicable," to build its concepts into currently on-going reviews.

This article reviews five major provisions of the draft guidance:

·   Analyzing GHG impacts of the proposed action: general approach.

·   Special considerations for land management action GHG analysis.

·   Significance thresholds, alternatives, and mitigation measures.

·   Effects of climate change on the proposed action and its impacts.

·   Use of traditional NEPA tools.

The article concludes with a brief comparison of the draft NEPA guidance with the California Environmental Quality Act's (CEQA) approach to climate change analysis, and identifies differences that may be relevant to preparation of joint CEQA/NEPA documents.

Analyzing GHG Impacts

CEQ's draft guidance starts by rejecting past NEPA analyses which sometimes argued that GHG analysis is not needed because the proposed action's GHG emissions represent a small proportion of global emissions, and would therefore have indiscernible impacts on global climate change. Instead, CEQ advises that the extent of the GHG analysis should be commensurate with the quantity of projected GHG emissions. It advises that the projected quantity of GHG emissions and, when appropriate, the potential changes in carbon sequestration and storage, should be used as a "proxy" for assessing the climate change impacts of a proposed action.

The draft guidance recommends that lead agencies be guided by a "rule of reason" to ensure that the level of effort used to analyze GHG and climate impacts is proportionate to the importance of climate action change considerations for the proposed action. The draft guidance recognizes that there are a large number of GHG analysis methodologies and tools, and recommends that when selecting a tool, lead agencies consider the size of the proposed action, its spatial and temporal scale, and the availability of input data. If a lead agency decides to prepare a qualitative rather than quantitative analysis, it should explain the basis for doing so. The draft guidance recommends that quantitative analyses be performed when a proposed action's GHG emissions exceed 25,000 metric tons of CO2e (CO2 equivalent) per year if quantification is easily accomplished. Qualitative analysis can be performed if GHG emissions do not exceed this reference point, unless quantification can be easily accomplished.


Al Herson is an environmental attorney who is Of Counsel with the Sohagi Law Group in Sacramento, California, where he represents public agency clients on environmental and land use law matters. He is co-author of the California Environmental Law and Policy: A Practical Guide, I (2d. ed.), and The NEPA Book, and co-author of the CEQA chapters in Matthew Bender's California Environmental Law and Land Use Practice. He also has co-chaired CLE International's Annual CEQA Conference since its inception in 2005. The author thanks Chris Calfee, Senior Counsel with OPR, for reviewing a draft of this article; the author is responsible for any opinions expressed.

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