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Obama Quietly Reissues Rules Making It Harder To Build Fossil Fuel Projects

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The White House reissued a guidance Wednesday night on how government agencies should conduct environmental reviews. The draft guidance would require officials to evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions of major projects.

Republicans blasted the White House’s update on how bureaucrats should conduct National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews, saying this sneaky guidance could stymie energy production.

“The Obama Administration is attempting to increase federal authority beyond NEPA’s original intent and further slow down job-creating projects in this last-ditch effort to appease its far-left environmental base right before the holidays,” said Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter.

The White House guidance will require projects like pipelines, natural gas export terminals, coal export terminals and even oil and gas operations to be evaluated based on thir potential impact on global warming.

But the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) says the updated draft guidance is needed to “increase the efficiency of environmental reviews and help agencies make informed decisions that are sound investments of taxpayer dollars and good for American communities.”

CEQ’s guidance would expand the scope of NEPA to require agencies to look at the global warming impacts of projects that emit 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The review would also force agencies to “consider alternatives that are more resilient to the effects of a changing climate.”

CEQ’s threshold of 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide is equal to about 10,000 tons of coal per year — a fraction of what every major coal mine in the country produces.

CEQ’s guidance also calls on agencies to use the Obama administration’s “social cost of carbon” (SCC) estimate, which has been heavily criticized by energy experts. The SCC claims that each ton of carbon emitted cost the planet $35.

The White House originally issued the NEPA global warming guidance in 2010, but failed to finalize it. But that was before President Obama won a second term in office and promised to tackle global warming.

“Not only did the Administration fail to learn anything from the recent elections, but CEQ apparently wants to move forward with guidance that is certain to slow projects and make building anything in this country more expensive,” Vitter said. “This is certain to hurt job creation and economic growth.”

Energy experts note that this will also affect state environmental agencies that rely on NEPA as guidance for their own reviews, possibly slowing down approvals of even more projects. Experts also say this could dramatically add to costs of companies looking to build projects, like natural gas export terminals.

Experts with ClearView Energy Partners say “a sponsor of a natural gas export project might need to demonstrate through additional consultant studies that increased natural gas production (and associated emissions) would otherwise occur even without exports” — much like what supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline have had to prove.

“In short, these extended federal environmental reviews appear likely to result in higher incremental costs and process latency for new and realigned investments,” write the energy analysts at ClearView.

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