US senator warns of new White House climate policy

19 February 2010 21:13  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Plans by the Obama administration to require global warming assessments by all federal permitting agencies may impede the development of US domestic energy resources, a leading Senate climate change sceptic said in a statement circulated on Friday.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, warned that a White House proposal that would include greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as criteria for approving projects or developments “will enable federal agencies to block or delay production of America’s domestic energy resources”.

Inhofe was responding to proposed climate change regulations issued by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to “modernise and reinvigorate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)”.

Enacted in 1970, NEPA underlies almost all US environmental law and regulations.

It is NEPA that requires almost any undertaking in the US - road, rail, building or factory construction, oil and gas drilling, manufacturing facility improvements or feedstock, production or product changes - to submit an environmental impact statement (EIS) before proceeding.

If the EIS is not approved by the governing federal agency, then the rail line, highway, factory or office building project does not go forward.

At present, an environmental impact statement provided by a project manager must show what consequences the undertaking might have for nearby historic places or cultural resources, wetlands, wilderness areas, the quality of human environment, endangered or threatened species or their habitats.

NEPA requires that federal agencies address all “reasonably foreseeable” environmental impacts of actions under their jurisdiction.

In the newly proposed CEQ regulations, the purview of NEPA and the evaluation of environmental impact statements would be broadened to “consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change”.

“It is now well established that rising GHG emissions are significantly affecting the Earth’s climate,” the council said in the proposed regulations. In part, the proposal cites findings on global warming by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The White House proposal for broader evaluation of global warming factors in federal permitting processes comes amid mounting challenges to the IPCC findings and controversy about potentially flawed research in IPCC reports.

The proposed NEPA regulatory expansion would require climate change impact assessments of any project or development that would cause emissions of 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases annually.

In addition, the new rules would apply to any development with emissions below that threshold if a federal permitting agency believes the undertaking might have long-term impact on climate change.

However, climate change and global warming criteria may apply and affect the permit for a project regardless of its actual emissions, according to the proposal.

Among examples cited in the proposed rules, the council said that “an industrial process may draw cumulatively significant amounts of water from a stream that is dwindling because of decreased snow pack in the mountains or add significant heat to a water body that is exposed to increasing atmospheric temperatures”.

Elsewhere, the pending rules note that “a proposal for long-term development of transportation infrastructure on a coastal barrier island will likely need to consider whether environmental effects or design parameters may be changed by the projected increase in the rate of sea level rise”.

The proposed regulations are open to public comment for 90 days or until around mid-May.

The proposal says, however, that “After consideration of public comment, CEQ intends to expeditiously issue this guidance in final form”.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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