White House Opens New Avenues for Environmental Review in Decision Making

guidanceregulationsonchalkboardThe White House wants federal agencies to start accounting for the benefits provided by nature to economic and social well-being when considering new regulations and how they should be enforced.

On Oct. 7, the Office of Management and Budget, Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and Office of Science and Technology Policy released a memo directing federal agencies and departments to incorporate ecosystem services into federal decision making.

These include “provisioning food and materials, improving the quality and moderating the quantity of water, providing wildlife habitat and spawning and nursery habitats for fisheries, enhancing climate resilience, mitigating storms and floods, buffering pollutants, providing greater resilience for communities and ecosystems, and supporting a wide array of cultural benefits, recreational opportunities, and aesthetic values,” according to the memo. These services should be monitored, assessed and evaluated.

Forthcoming CEQ guidance is expected to assist with the integration of these efforts into the broader scope of strategy and planning activities already undertaken by agencies.

The memo specifically states that this activity is intended to compliment rather than alter or supersede “agency activities prescribed by or pursuant to law, tribal consultation policy, Executive Order, regulation, or other relevant guidance.”

However, the fact that the Administration sees a need to explicitly enumerate these principles on top of recent actions concerning environmental justice, climate change, and resiliency indicates that the White House may want to fill policy gaps before the end of the President’s term. The policy will allow the government to calculate additional environmental benefits as part of their economic justification for future regulations.

NAHB staff will continue to monitor the issue as Agencies develop and submit their work plans to CEQ by March 30, 2016, and will review the CEQ guidance when it becomes available.

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