Municipalities in the United States are increasingly active in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Data suggest that the physical layout of communities and the buildings they contain make significant contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and thus to climate change. One useful tool for municipalities could be the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), pioneered in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) at the federal level and subsequently adopted as a policymaking guide in the State Environmental Policy Acts (SEPAs) of many states. A SEPA requires state governments - and, in six states, local governments as well - to consider the environmental effects of decisions they make. Indeed, SEPAs in states like California, New York and Washington require that adverse environmental effects be avoided or mitigated to the extent feasible before government approval can be granted. SEPAs should be interpreted to include climate change effects among the environmental impacts the EIS considers, and municipalities may consider whether they have the authority to require an EIS even if it is not mandated by state law. The EIS, by generating project-specific information, can offer a municipality a regulatory tool to induce developers to reduce the climate change effects of new development. California currently is implementing its SEPA, the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA, in that manner, and offers an example for other state and municipal actors to consider. A final benefit of this approach is that it can influence private real estate developers to internalize consideration of climate change effects in their development plans.


Climate change, environmental law, SEPAs, environmental impact statement, municipalities, local government, land use planning, greenhouse gas emissions, corporate responsibility

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Case Western Reserve Law Review

Publication Information

58 Case Western Reserve Law Review 1289 (2008)