Addressing Climate Change Impacts in Federal, State, and Local Environmental Review Processes

Focus Area

Climate Change


Air Quality, Environmental Process




Under $99k


Under 1 year

Research Idea Scope

With the growing interest in mitigating climate change impacts from transportation facilities and other projects, a need exists to more fully examine potential impacts.  The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) provides one such opportunity, with the potential for carbon dioxide to be addressed directly as part of air pollution impact analysis and for climate change to be addressed even more comprehensively as part of required cumulative impacts analysis.  With the Supreme Court’s decision in <st1:place w_st=”on”><st1:placetype w_st=”on”>Commonwealth of <st1:placename w_st=”on”>Massachusetts v. EPA, the federal government appears on its way to designating carbon dioxide as a criteria pollutant.  This could have significant impacts on federal and state regulations and could result in the need for more comprehensive assessment requirements for transportation, potentially accomplished through NEPA. 

Some jurisdictions are already beginning to address climate change as part of state environmental review requirements.  For example, <st1:place w_st=”on”><st1:city w_st=”on”>King County, <st1:state w_st=”on”>Washington, requires that greenhouse gases be addressed as part of environmental review conducted under the State Environmental Policy Act.  <st1:state w_st=”on”><st1:place w_st=”on”>Massachusetts has recently added climate change to the list of impacts to be examined under its state environmental law.  In response to recent lawsuits, <st1:place w_st=”on”><st1:state w_st=”on”>California is currently examining potential guidelines for addressing climate change under the California Environmental Quality Act. 

The proposed research effort would examine existing NEPA policy, the relevance of recent judicial decisions, and policy actions occurring in state and local governments relative to this issue.  In addition, interviews with agency staff (e.g. transportation agency, environmental review agency) and affected stakeholders (e.g. local MPOs or communities, developers, advocacy organizations) would be conducted to gain an understanding of current practices and the challenges and opportunities related to addressing climate change impacts in environmental review processes.  These findings would be considered in the context of NEPA regulations and federal and state transportation agency guidance related to NEPA’s implementation.  Best practices for addressing climate change in environmental review processes would be highlighted.  In addition, recommendations related to addressing climate change in federal, state, and local environmental review processes could be developed.

Urgency and Payoff

The benefits of this research include building an understanding of current trends and practice related to addressing climate change in environmental review processes.  While most of the action on this topic has occurred at the state and local level, with the recent <st1:state w_st=”on”><st1:place w_st=”on”>Massachusetts v. EPA decision, there is likely to be increased pressure to consider climate change under NEPA.  Such as decision could have significant impacts on transportation projects and agencies. 

Learning from current practice and experience at other levels of government could provide significant insights into how NEPA might address climate change.  The research would explore stakeholder impacts of such a decision, methods available to assess climate change impacts, and potential mitigation measures available to reduce climate change impacts.  Learning from recent legal decisions and from those states and local governments that have taken the lead on addressing these issues could provide very useful insights as the federal government and transportation agencies begin to consider options and respond to pressures to address this issue.

Suggested By

Carissa Schively Slotterback, University of Minnesota, Telephone: 612-626-3193

[email protected]