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Obama Administration's Failure to Act on Climate Change Sparks Lawsuit

April 02, 2014
Center for Food Safety

Council on Environmental Quality's Inaction is Unlawful
Lawsuit Filed Just as Latest Climate Report Shows Crisis Worsening

Today, Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a federal lawsuit against the Obama Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) over the agency’s failure to take legally required, urgent action on climate change. CEQ is the federal agency charged with overseeing the regulations and implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which is known as the U.S.’s “basic national charter for protection of the environment.” Specifically, CFS’s case asserts that CEQ has acted unlawfully in completely failing to respond to a 2008 CFS legal petition, which had demanded that CEQ require all federal agencies to address climate change impacts in NEPA analyses before undertaking or approving federal actions.

“The Obama Administration has repeatedly promised to take action on climate, but talk is cheap. Its delay here is unlawful, as well as inexplicable and irresponsible,” said George Kimbrell, CFS senior attorney. “Report after scientific report highlights the need for swift action from governments in order to protect our land, our food—humanity itself—from the effects of a chaotic climate.”  

Climate change is perhaps the most urgent challenge facing society. Just this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a new report concluding that the “effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across oceans,” and that “[o]bserved impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and some people’s livelihoods.” Concerning agriculture, the IPCC report warns that “[a]ll aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilization, and price stability.”  However, despite scientific consensus and increasingly dire threats to human health, the greenhouse gas contributions of activities undertaken or approved by the U.S. government continue to go unrecognized or overlooked.

In February 2008, the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA), CFS’s sister organization, submitted a legal petition to CEQ for rulemaking on climate change. The sixty-five page petition was a legal blueprint for how CEQ should ensure that climate change impacts are addressed. By law, CEQ was required to respond to CTA’s petition in a timely manner, but the agency has never responded. In February 2010, CEQ did issue a draft guidance document on climate change considerations for public comment; however, over four more years have passed and CEQ has never finalized that document nor otherwise addressed the issue.

“This unlawful delay is the opposite of the Obama Administration’s repeated promises to address climate change,” said Kimbrell. “CEQ action is a perfect example of something the administration can do unilaterally, without requiring congressional efforts. Yet the CEQ process has mysteriously gone into a black hole.”

While CEQ refuses to act, climate change impacts increase in magnitude and severity. The past few years have brought the U.S. numerous billion-dollar, climate-related disasters, from Hurricane Sandy to historic flash flooding and unprecedented drought. In 2012 in the U.S. alone, droughts and heat waves that devastated crops across the country cost an estimated $30 billion. National and international organizations now predict that climate change will drastically impact human health and threaten global food security.

In March 2014, CFS released a groundbreaking report on the connections between climate change and our food. The report explained that harm to agriculture as a result of climate change could cause widespread food scarcity, economic disruption, and social unrest, with grave consequences for global and national food security. The report also examined the resiliency of competing forms of agriculture—industrial and organic—in the face of escalating climate shocks, and concluded that organic and related agricultural systems can actually contribute to solving the climate crisis.

Complaint available here.


Center for Food Safety is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting public health and the environment by addressing the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture. CFS has more than 475,000 members across the country. CFS’s “Cool Foods” Program addresses climate problems with food solutions, harnessing the energy of the food movement to take climate action. In 1999, CTA spearheaded a legal petition that resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court climate change case, Massachusetts v. EPA, in 2007.


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