SEED: Sustainable Environmental and Economic Development - a Call to Incorporate Verifiable Sustainability Ratings into NEPA Reviews

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

II. THE NEPA FRAMEWORK

    A. NEPA and CEQ

    B. The Environmental Review Process

        1. Federal Action Threshold

        2. Lead Agency and Cooperating Agencies

        3. Categorical Exclusions

        4. Environmental Assessments

        5. Environmental Impact Statements

     C. Judicial Review

III. THE SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENTAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

     (SEED) PROPOSAL

     A. The Proposed SEED Framework

        1. The EA Qualitative Checklist

        2. Centralized Information Database

        3. Voluntary Sustainability Rating System

        4. Independent Third-Party Verification

        5. Incentivizing Participation with Brand Recognition

        6. Incentivizing Participation in Setting NEPA Review Time
           Limits

        7. Monitoring the Implementation and Effectiveness of

           Sustainability

     B. Proof of Concept-LEED

IV. SEED IMPLEMENTATION

V. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development projects that the global population will reach 7.65 billion people by 2020. (1) By 2050, that number will reach 9.3 billion. (2) World gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to roughly quadruple from 2010 to 2050. (3) As the density and intensity of humanity's use of the Earth's natural resources continues to grow, each year we must do more with less. Current models of economic development cannot continue. (4) The way government and industry plan major development projects must adapt to looming resource constraints. Otherwise, a new generation will inherit a world where the supply of consumable resources has been depleted.

Since nearly its inception, the environmental movement has advocated for "sustainable development" as a solution to global resource management problems. For example, in 1983, the United Nations convened the Brundtland Commission to address concerns over the increasing rates of resource depletion and environmental degradation. (5) The commission advocated for "sustainable development," which it defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (6) Environmentalists often combine the goal of sustainable development with the precautionary principle. (7) The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the 1992 Rio Conference) adopted one of the most widely accepted formulations of the precautionary principle as Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration:

   In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach
   shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities.
   Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of
   full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for
   postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental
   degradation, (8)

Notably, this definition seeks to consider the costs of precautionary actions that will protect against uncertain harms. The United Nations most recently met in June 2012 to define and discuss global sustainable development policies at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Earth Summit). (9)

Industry and businesses are legitimately concerned that precautionary costs imposed despite an uncertain beneficial future value could hobble economic development. This fear extends beyond corporate profitability. It is no exaggeration to say that social stability in many countries depends on high rates of economic growth. (10) Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in recent decades, but literally billions more also need immediate economic opportunities. (11) Sustainable development, when properly understood, is a risk minimization and risk management approach to economic development within environmental constraints and in the face of scientific uncertainty. Fortunately, many sustainable development practices can create near- and long-term cost savings and increase a business's consumer goodwill and brand value. …