With five months left in his second and final term, U.S. President Barack Obama reached back nearly half a century to the Nixon era for a legislative precedent to order every branch of the sprawling United States government to prepare climate change impact statements for any significant action they take.
The U.S. government is America’s single largest employer, with some 22 million employees. Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), enacted in 1969 during the less partisan era in U.S. politics that also produced the Clean Air and Water acts and created the Environmental Protection Agency, federal agencies must consider the environmental consequences “of all kinds of actions,” the Washington Post reports. Those range from “granting a permit to drill on public lands to building a new road or bridge.” Last year, different agencies produced 563 such reports.
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This week’s “guidance” to the rest of the U.S. government from the Council on Environmental Quality requires agencies to “quantify the climate impacts of their decisions, when possible, in the context of the environmental reviews that are already required by NEPA,” the Post notes. “It will also ask them to consider how to do things differently, in a way that could help prepare the U.S. better for a warming climate.”
Environmental observers welcomed the guidance as a “game-changer,” in what is often regarded as a period of waning presidential energy. “Simply put, said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “this is a common sense step that underlines the Administration’s commitment to addressing climate change.”
The move comes as the American public is showing signs of a new appetite for climate discussion, during a taboo-busting presidential and congressional election campaign.
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