Existing federal and state environmental laws and regulations provide the authority and mandate to begin to understand and address greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for changing climatic conditions.Unfortunately, executive branch agencies have largely failed to recognize and act to address the implications of climate change for their areas of responsibility. Indeed, the U.S. government currently lacks a systematic process for evaluating the consequences of federal actions for greenhouse gas emissions or vulnerability to changing climatic conditions. This situation contributes directly to a critical gap in information needed to make decisions about the costs and consequences of federal actions for global warming.
The National Environmental Policy Act should be applied to fill this critical information gap by requiring the consideration of global warming in environmental assessments of federal actions. NEPA is designed to provide full disclosure of the environmental effects of federal actions to the government and to the public. The law is intended to ensure that decision-makers are armed with a complete understanding of the environmental impacts associated with such decisions. The federal government must clarify NEPA’s authority to ensure that global warming is systematically considered during environmental assessments of federal actions, rather than relying upon a series of litigation challenges to force attention to this issue, as is currently the case. The government should not waste its limited resources defending the notion that information about climate change is not relevant to decision-makers or the public.
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