Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe is challenging the White House’s latest order on how federal agencies take global warming into account in reviews of government actions or projects.
Inhofe argues the White House guidance has no force since the Council on Environmental Quality’s chairman has not been confirmed by the Senate. CEQ hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed chairman since 2014, which means their guidances have no force under federal law.
“Under the Vacancies Reform Act, no person may perform the duties of the vacant CEQ Chairman position until the President has nominated a candidate who is subject to Senate confirmation,” Inhofe said in a statement.
White House officials released a new guidance on how federal agencies should consider global warming when conducting environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Inhofe has been pushing back on CEQ’s guidance for months since there’s no confirmed chairman.
The last CEQ chairman, Nancy Sutley, resigned in 2014, and was followed up by Michael Boots, but Boots left the White House in 2015. Inhofe says lower officials, led by Managing Director Christy Goldfuss, have no authority under federal law without a confirmed chairman.
“With no Senate-confirmed chairman, or even a nominee, today’s guidance can have no force or effect as CEQ staff have no authority to take any official action,” Inhofe said.
Inhofe is also opposing the guidance because he says it’s outside the scope of NEPA to consider the impacts of global warming — a position the CEQ clearly disagrees with.
“Further, even if there were a Senate-confirmed Chairman of CEQ, global climate change falls outside of the scope of NEPA so the guidance has no legal basis,” Inhofe said.
CEQ’s guidance states global warming “is a fundamental environmental issue, and its effects fall squarely within NEPA’s purview.” The guidance is meant to give federal agencies a clear standard to use when considering man-made warming under NEPA.
“CEQ is issuing the guidance to provide for greater clarity and more consistency in how agencies address climate change in the environmental impact assessment process,” reads the CEQ guidance.
“It is now well established that rising global atmospheric GHG emission concentrations are significantly affecting the Earth’s climate,” according to the guidance. “Studies have projected the effects of increasing GHGs on many resources normally discussed in the NEPA process, including water availability, ocean acidity, sea-level rise, ecosystem functions, energy production, agriculture and food security, air quality and human health.”
The guidance is part of President Barack Obama’s global warming plan to cut emissions in line with what he promised the United Nations. Obama pledged to cut U.S. emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025.
Taking global warming into consideration when approving projects, however, would put a huge burden on western states where about half the land is owned by the federal government.
“Yesterday the White House issued a sweeping policy with potentially enormous economic costs without a rulemaking and without adequate scientific justification,” said Wyoming Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis said of the guidance.
“This guidance hijacks NEPA, using it as a tool for the Obama Administration to limit job creation and economic growth, particularly in the West where it could be used to keep our public lands under lock and key,” said Lummis, who chairs the Western Caucus.
“NEPA is about transparency and informing the public and federal decision-makers, not dictating outcomes as this guidance will do,” she said.
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