Legal Tools for Climate Adaptation Advocacy: NEPA
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. NEPA requires federal agencies to evaluate the environmental effects of a wide range of actions, including direct federal undertakings and projects that receive federal funding or permits. Many states have since enacted similar laws of varying scope, requiring evaluation of the environmental impacts of certain state and local actions. Since climate change has emerged as a critical environmental issue, some agencies have evaluated and disclosed the projected greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributable to government actions. Government agencies have also occasionally performed a “reverse environmental impact analysis,” in which the effects of climate change on a government project are considered. However, many, if not most, government agencies have failed to meaningfully consider the effects of climate change on proposed projects in connection with the environmental review process. This section briefly describes the traditional environmental impact assessment process, discusses the legal authority for using NEPA and similar state laws to address climate change adaptation, and explains how citizens can use these laws to encourage agencies and applicants to consider climate change impacts – both those caused by and those affecting a proposed project.
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