- The White House issued new proposed guidance for federal agencies to follow Tuesday, which encourages agencies to factor in societal costs and benefits of changes to “ecosystem services” their actions may cause into decision-making processes.
- The guidance could affect rulemaking processes pertaining to key operations like mining, agriculture, energy management and infrastructure development.
- “This administration is using every opportunity to make it more difficult to build or produce anything in the United States,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The White House issued proposed guidance Tuesday that would standardize the way federal agencies account for a wide range of societal impacts caused by changes to ecosystems in their cost-benefit analysis, such as effects on mental health and “culturally valued experiences.”
The proposed guidance would establish a standard playbook for federal agencies to follow to ensure that possible changes to broadly-defined “ecosystem services” and their impacts receive equal footing to other costs and benefits considered in the regulatory process for actions like infrastructure development, mining, energy standards and agriculture. The guidance would instruct agencies to describe or assign value to natural services, like plant pollination and flood protection, as well as the nonmaterial impacts that changes to ecosystems may cause, such as those on human spirituality, cultural practices or mental health, when assessing costs and benefits of taking regulatory actions.
“This administration is using every opportunity to make it more difficult to build or produce anything in the United States,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “There’s a reason inflation continues to be out of control, when there’s a constant effort to elevate nebulous concepts like environmental justice or in this case, ‘ecosystem services,’ over the products Americans rely on every day to cool their homes, get to school and work, and put food on the table.”
The guidance instructs agencies to calculate or estimate the social costs of changes to ecosystems through a wide range of regulatory actions, according to the rule’s text. Some of the “ecosystem services” that nature provides, such as clean drinking water, are more easily assigned a dollar value than others, like impacts on mental health, spiritual practices or recreational opportunity, according to E&E News.
For example, a proposed action’s impacts to mental health, once quantified or described, could be counted against the benefits of proposed construction of facilities used for education, housing, transportation and certain infrastructure projects. While the guidance leaves room for positive benefits of a change to factor into a given agency’s cost-benefit analysis, the Biden administration’s broader effort to include societal impacts in the regulatory calculus may make costly climate rules more justifiable, according to an April report by E&E News.
The proposed guidance also directs agencies to ensure adequate adherence to “environmental justice” in their cost-benefit calculations. “If any potentially affected groups are underserved communities, or if there could be a shift in inequities due to changes in an ecosystem service caused by an alternative, those services are important to include in the analysis,” the draft guidance instructs federal agencies.
“There’s no justice in using environmental regulations to make energy more expensive for low-income Americans,” Sgamma said. “We already have very strict environmental controls in this country, yet the administration uses every new lever the bureaucracy can dream up to tie up products made in America in more red tape.”
The draft guidance could also apply to projects of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to Eli Fenichel, professor of natural resource economics at Yale University, E&E News reported.
“Because nature provides us with so many things without cost, these benefits—called ‘ecosystem services’—are not always fully captured in benefit-cost analysis, which the U.S. government has used for decades as a way to check that regulations and investments are making a positive impact on Americans’ lives,” Richard Revesz, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Arati Prabhakar wrote in a coauthored Tuesday blog post. “Failing to fully account for nature’s bounty has led to under-valuing and erosion of our nation’s natural assets.”
However, the proposed guidance could consume more administrative resources and saddle regulators with more paperwork hours. The guidance could also open new opportunities for litigation against agencies from groups that do not agree with valuations of ecosystem services like mental health or spirituality.
The guidance “is nothing less than a new license for lawsuits, delays and an excuse to say ‘no’ to human uses of enormous swaths of the U.S., including states like Nevada, where the feds own 87% of the land,” Dan Kish, senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research, told the DCNF. “Unfortunately, that means a poorer America, but they’ll use this device to tell people they’re better off in poverty,” he continued, calling President Joe Biden’s regulatory agenda is “out-of-control.”
The White House and the OSTP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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