Article Describes NEPA Requirements for Disclosing Upstream and Downstream Emissions from Fossil Fuel Projects

Read the full post at the Climate Law Blog.

The Harvard Environmental Law Review has published an article by Michael Burger and Jessica Wentz, “Downstream and Upstream Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The Proper Scope of NEPA Review.”

Recently, legal controversies have arisen regarding the scope of greenhouse gas emissions that should be considered in environmental reviews of fossil fuel extraction and transportation proposals under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). The key question is whether and how agencies should account for emissions from activities that occur “downstream” from the proposed action, such as the combustion of fossil fuels, and emissions from activities that occur “upstream” of the proposed action, such as the extraction of fossil fuels. This question is important, because consideration of such emissions can alter the balance of costs and benefits for a proposed project and the agency’s ability to justify approving the project in light of that balance.  This article argues that such emissions do typically fall within the scope of indirect and cumulative impacts that must be evaluated under NEPA, and provides recommendations on how agencies should evaluate such emissions in environmental review documents.

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