This could be HUGE: Obama Will Use Nixon-Era Law to Fight Climate Change

From Bloomberg

President Barack Obama is preparing to tell all federal agencies for the first time that they have to consider the impact on global warming before approving major projects, from pipelines to highways.
The result could be significant delays for natural gas- export facilities, ports for coal sales to Asia, and even new forest roads, industry lobbyists warn.

“It’s got us very freaked out,” said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington-based group that represents 11,000 companies such as Exxon-Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Southern Co. (SO) The standards, which constitute guidance for agencies and not new regulations, are set to be issued in the coming weeks, according to lawyers briefed by administration officials.

This takes Congress out of the picture and allows the administration to act independently. There will be law suits, and high courts will have to decide if ruining the planet by releases a particular gas is the same as, well, ruining the planet by releasing a different gas under a law that says that you can’t do any of that.

In fact, some Environmental Impact work already considers climate change effects, but this would make the practice widespread and uniform across all Federal agencies.

While the scope of the old NEPA law is broad, it’s bite is rather shallow. Using the law may serve to give more voice to opponents to projects, and delay project, but not require them to change their design an may hardly stop a project. But in some cases this may be what is needed. For example, in the case of Fracking, the length of time required for regulatory effects to take place is longer than the rapidity with which projects can slip under the radar, so much of the fracking we are ever going to do in some regions will be done before Regulators finish their first cup of coffee. Where NEPA applies, it would serve as a net trapping this sort of para-regulatory behavior on the part of industry.

On the other hand, if NEPA is interpreted and implemented with more bite, there could be straight forward, direct effects, causing the long term favoring of low Carbon emission projects over the worst polluters.

Is this a salve to be applied to a large gaping wound in Obama’s environmental policy caused by approving Keystone, or is it one of several steps towards developing an impressive legacy in environmental affairs, to come along side NOT approving Keystone?

We’ll see. Soon.

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20 thoughts on “This could be HUGE: Obama Will Use Nixon-Era Law to Fight Climate Change

  1. How about a link to the law in question? What does it say? Without that, your article doesn’t really say much.

  2. Post #1 was rude, but was so was the author’s response. Truthfully, I came to the article hoping for an excerpt of the law too.

  3. Josh, that wan’t rude. It was a fully appropriate response to someone who says “I’m claiming you didn’t say anything at all because all that stuff you said did not conform to the expectations I had in my little brain before I even clicked on the link.” As for you,same thing. You came here expecting an excerpt from the bill. It is what your little brain assumed would be here before you clicked on the link. But it wasn’t there and that upset you and now you are lashing out.

    I’ve provided a link to the bill. That is because I am such an amazingly nice guy that I even do favors to numskulls who whine and complain and insult and demand. Now, since I’m such an amazingly nice guy, I’ll provide instructions: To use a link, you click on it and you end up somewhere on the internet. The place to which yo uwere linked. Have a nice time following the link!

    I am in a particularly bad mood today. Yet somehow I’m being incredibly nice to the two of you . I don’t know why.

  4. Greg, you’re being a dick.

    You should have posted to an excerpt of the law to begin with. Don’t get ticked off at everyone for pointing it out.

  5. Mike, you are absolutely correct, I apologize. Next time I write a blog post can I run it by you to see if it includes all the elements you require? Thanks for the help.

  6. Greg,
    The next time you write a blog and expect lower standards of citation than a middle school research paper, don’t get upset when people think you’re acting like a middle schooler.That being said, do you feel comfortable with one man having so much power over environmental regulations? Would you trust a Republican with close ties to energy companies with such authority?

  7. First, your writing a blog. You basically invite the entire world to have an opinion on what you write.

    Second, that Mike guy could’ve been nicer, but he didn’t have to be. Just like you don’t have to be complete in your blog. Either both of you are at fault, or neither of you.

    Third, the blog is only wild opinion until it’s backed by some reference or homework. No, you don’t have to do the homework for your blog. But then no, we don’t have to take you seriously.

    Having the link makes this 100% better, your contribution to the internet has higher value with it.

  8. Sean, I think you mean blog POST.

    Anyway , ths law as been in effect fr years and as I say in the post, which actually does ave content, isn’t all that strong.

  9. Greg, you must be in a bad mood today, because you are being quite defensive (I refuse to engage in scatological insults).

    You are inordinately fond, and rightly so, of calling out denialists and other crackpots for making superficially “factual” statements without providing citations to back up their claims. You got called out (fairly politely, and not actually inaccurately) for doing the same thing. Goose, meet gander. Gander, this is goose. Now go play quietly together while the grownups talk.

    “Nixon-era” covers at least six years of legislative history (more if you count Gerry’s half term), and a wide range of laws.

    The information you provided to readers to narrow down that range was the acronym “NEPA,” which refers both to the act enabling use of EIS’s but also to the heavy coal-producing region of Pennsylvania. Both interpretations may be reasonable chosen by a reader in the context of climate change.

    Making that ambiguous acronym a hyperlink in your text would have been zero cost (since you already knew the URL).

  10. On a more positive note, this _is_ really interesting, and potentially highly effective. Since Congress (in a past incarnation) has already passed NEPA, they have explicitly given their consent to Obama’s rumored directive to his (Executive Branch) agencies.

    The fact that courts have already held that NEPA applies to any project, at _any_ level, which either receives federal funding (even partially!) or involves federally issued permits, is what gives Obama’s rumored action teeth.

    Since the issuance of a permit, or release of federal funds, is an action _by_ the agency, it can be halted as a result of a negative EIS. Loss of partial funding alone may not stop a project (since states may be likely to provide those funds instead, depending on the politics involved), but failure to secure necessary permits certainly will.

    It will be very interesting to see how this develops over the coming year.

  11. Michael, exactly. What is really happening here is the implementation of a law that I suspect was ignored during the Great Gutting of Federal regulatory action and authority under Bush which I suspect was not undone as much as it could have been done (mainly perhaps because of the financial crisis) during the first Obama term.

  12. Michael (#13): Not really. I posted a story which was based on one report at Bloomberg and gave that link. I threw in a few comments to go along with it. I’m not really obligated to provide references that might have backed up the Bloomberg post. The law in question is well known and not at all obscure. I’m sure there are countless references to existing laws on this blog, by me and by commenters, and elsewhere on the blogosphere that do not happen to give references to the original law and associated case law and regulatory documents!

    (I didn’t already know the URL, by the way. Had that been handy I probably would have provided the link.)

  13. This sounds sort of reasonable. NEPA mandates consideration of all costs and benefits. So, if a project affects global warming, then it should be determined if that is a cost or a benefit, or no significant impact.

    As a side comment, If I could not produce an acceptable FONSI (Finding Of No Significant Impact) for a proposed project, I would probably recommend abandoning the project.

  14. Greg, remember Twains* warning about arguing with idiots. “Do not argue with an idiot they drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

    *loose attribution.

  15. Hydraulic fracturing Is incredibly greedy of the large companies that are supported by our government.. The amount of pollution that comes from the pressurized fluid alone is astonishing. Known carcinogens and other harmful chemicals are shot into the ground and given off into the atmosphere as poisonous vapor. The petroleum and gas pollute underground water as well as the atmosphere, threatening thousands of Americans that rely on underground wells for water. When these citizens complain to the company that fracked they are either ignored or offered money to sell their land to the company and keep their mouth shut. Its about time the government supported the EPA instead of their personal interests. The petroleum that these big companies extract with pollution is burned, creating even more toxic fumes. Humans are destroying the planet, and the steady increase in global warming suggests its not happening slowly. “Only when the last tree Is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, will humans realize they cannot eat money”

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