The Obama administration’s proposed guidance for considering climate change in federal agency project reviews overreaches existing statute, oversimplifies the analysis of project impacts and could contradict administration objectives for clean power, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade association said.

The Center for Liquefied Natural Gas (CLNG) said the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) updated and expanded draft guidance for applying the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) overreaches the bounds of NEPA and should be scrapped. The CEQ proposal was released for comment last December (see Daily GPI, Dec. 19, 2014).

“…[T]his Revised Guidance is a far-reaching and costly policy action of untested legal basis which puts the timely development of such beneficial projects at risk by guiding agencies to broaden the scope of…NEPA reviews to an extent that is unwarranted and inconsistent with NEPA statute,” CLNG said in its comments on the proposal, adding that the changes would cause administrative confusion and delay. Further, CLNG said, the proposal could contradict “broad policy objectives,” such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

CLNG objects to the proposed use of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) as a proxy for climate change impacts of a given project.

“The Revised Guidance further proposes a threshold or reference point for emission of 25,000 tons per year of GHG emissions as a threshold for NEPA significance,” CLNG said. “Agencies are advised to be guided by the ‘rule of reason’ and to ensure that the level of effort expended is reasonably proportionate to climate change impacts. The proposed threshold does not help in either respect since no scientific, reasoned or objective support is provided for this threshold. This at the outset contravenes NEPA requirements for ‘accurate scientific analysis’ and ‘scientific integrity.'”

In a statement CLNG said, “Project developers should have the reasonable expectation of regulatory certainty from federal agencies…CLNG urges CEQ to stick to the letter and spirit of the law and withdraw its Revised Guidance.”

The guidance has relevance to the argument — frequently used by environmentalists in attempts to block LNG projects — that such projects stimulate natural gas production, whose upstream environmental consequences should be considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under NEPA.

Kevin Ewing, a partner with the Washington DC-based law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, told NGI at the time the guidance was released that “the document makes a confusing reference, in parentheticals, to what it calls ‘upstream emissions’ and downstream emissions’ without really spending the time in the document to explain what is really meant by this.”