Washington State Department of Ecology Releases Draft Guidance on Addressing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in SEPA Review

Author:Ms Kristine Wilson, Stacey Scriven Bernstein and Karen M. McGaffey
Profession:Perkins Coie LLP
 
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On May 27, 2010, the Washington State Department of Ecology ("Ecology") released a draft guidance document ("Guidance") for use by state and local lead agencies when evaluating proposals under the State Environmental Policy Act ("SEPA") that either:

will result in greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions, or may be vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In announcing the Guidance, Ecology emphasized the importance of SEPA as a tool that can be used to reduce GHG emissions in Washington state. Ecology stated that until regional or national GHG programs "are adopted and implemented, SEPA can help fill the gaps in existing regulations." Ecology also wanted to avoid potential legal challenges, noting that "[f]ailure to evaluate the environmental impacts of a proposal on the climate could result in a successful legal challenge regarding the adequacy of an agency's SEPA review."

The Guidance states that because proposals that will emit greenhouse gases contribute to regional, national and global environmental impacts associated with those gases, SEPA requires lead agencies to consider whether and how GHGs from a project will contribute to environmental impacts, and how those impacts could be mitigated by avoiding or reducing the levels of GHG emissions.

OVERVIEW OF CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT EVALUATION PROCESS

The Guidance sets forth specific steps to assess the potential climate impacts of a given proposal and the proposal's vulnerability to climate change:

1. The project proponent identifies and calculates or otherwise assesses the GHG emissions associated with the project over its lifetime, including the construction phase. Until Ecology provides a standard format for this analysis, the assessment can be documented using a draft worksheet to supplement the current SEPA environmental checklist.

2. The project proponent identifies reasonable mitigation that avoids, reduces or compensates for the adverse effects of the emissions.

3. The lead agency, in consultation with the project proponent, assesses the potential effects of climate change on the project itself and how this vulnerability may cause or exacerbate other environmental impacts. Reasonable measures are to be identified to mitigate both.

4. The lead agency makes a threshold determination, assessing the significance of the unmitigated emissions as well as any impacts that may result from the project's vulnerability to the climate change impacts.

5. If emissions from the project will not be mitigated below...

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