December 19, 2012 Articles

How EISs Are and Are Not Analyzing Climate Change

The lack of a centralized repository for environmental impact statements has made them difficult to systematically track.

By Patrick Woolsey – December 19, 2012

In recent years, environmental impact statements (EISs) prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its state equivalents have increasingly addressed environmental impacts related to climate change and greenhouse-gas emissions, but the lack of a centralized repository has made it difficult to systematically track this development. While EISs contain a wealth of detailed information on the environmental effects of actions undertaken or permitted by federal agencies, EISs are typically read only by people concerned with the proposed action under study, and the information they contain is not comprehensively aggregated. In an effort to address this problem, Columbia Law School’s Center for Climate Change Law (CCCL) has compiled a national database of NEPA EISs that discuss several specific categories of climate-change impacts. The initial results of CCCL’s analysis suggest that federal agencies have developed widely varying procedures for addressing the topic.

In 2010, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published draft guidance on the analysis of greenhouse-gas emissions and climate change in EISs prepared by federal agencies. In the absence of finalized guidance, federal agencies have developed a variety of interpretations of the appropriate scope of climate impacts to be considered and the methods of impact analysis. The CCCL has prepared a database of 196 NEPA EISs that substantively address climate-change-related impacts, covering the period from January 1, 2009, through November 1, 2011. (The CCCL has also compiled a similar database of environmental impact reports prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act.) The database records the state, lead agency, and type of project, and discusses and categorizes the climate-change-related impacts considered in each EIS.

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