Council on Environmental Quality

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Council on Environmental Quality

Until it was abolished by the Clinton Administration in 1993, the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) was the White House Office that advised the President and coordinated executive branch policy on the environment . CEQ was established by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 to "formulate and recommend national policies" to promote the improvement of the quality of the natural environment.

CEQ had three basic responsibilities: to serve as advisor to the President on environmental policy matters; to coordinate the positions of the various departments and agencies of government on environmental issues; and to carry out the provisions of NEPA. The latter responsibility included working with federal agencies on complying with the law and issuing the required regulations for assessing the environmental impacts of federal actions. (NEPA requires that all agencies of the federal government issue "a detailed statement" on "the environmental impact" of "proposals for legislation and other major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment." This seemingly innocuous provision has been used often by environmental groups to legally challenge federal projects that might damage the environment, on the grounds that the required Environmental Impact Statement was inadequate or had not been issued.)

CEQ also prepared and issued the annual Environmental Quality Report; administered the President's Commission on Environmental Quality, an advisory panel involved in voluntary initiatives to protect the environment; and supervised the President's Environment and Conservation Challenge Awards, which honored individuals and organizations who achieved significant environmental accomplishments. Under the Nixon and Carter administrations, CEQ had a significant impact on the formulation and implementation of environmental policy. But its role was greatly diminished under the Reagan and Bush administrations, which paid much less attention to environmental considerations.

Perhaps CEQ's best-known and most influential accomplishment was its landmark work, The Global 2000 Report to the President, prepared with the U.S. Department of State and other federal agencies, and released in July 1980. This pioneering study was the first report by the U.S. governmentor any otherprojecting long term environmental, population, and resource trends in an integrated way.

Specifically, the report projected that the world of the future would not be a pleasant place to live for much of humanity, predicting that "if present trends continue, the world in 2000 will be more crowded, more polluted, less stable ecologically and more vulnerable to disruption than the world we live in now. Serious stresses involving population, resources, and environment are clearly visible ahead....the world's people will be poorer in many ways than they are today." CEQ's Eleventh Annual Report, Environmental Quality1980, further warned that "we can no longer assume, as we could in the past, that the earth will heal and renew itself indefinitely. Human numbers and human works are catching up with the earth's ability to recover...The quality of human existence in the future will rest on careful stewardship and husbandry of the earth's resources."

In the following dozen years, CEQ was much more reluctant to speak out about the ecological crisis. Early in his presidency, Bill Clinton abolished CEQ and created the White House Office on Environmental Policy to coordinate the environmental policy and actions of his administration. Clinton said this new body will "have broader influence and a more effective and focused mandate to coordinate policy" than CEQ had.

[Lewis G. Regenstein ]



"White House Environmentalists." Buzzworm 5 (May-June 1993): 72.


Environmental Quality: The Eleventh Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality. Washington, DC: Council on Environmental Quality, 1980.

The Global 2000 Report to the President. Washington, DC: Council on Environmental Quality, 1980.


Council on Environmental Quality, 722 Jackson Place, NW, Washington, D.C. USA 20503 Fax: (202) 395-5750, Toll Free: (202) 456-6546, , <>

President's Council on Environmental Quality

views updated Jun 11 2018

President's Council on Environmental Quality

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) was created by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1969 during the first term of President Richard Nixon. The primary role of the council is to advise the President on environmental policy. Because it is limited to an advisory role, CEQ does not have a highly visible public profile. It is composed of three members, including a chairperson, who are appointed by the president with the advise and consent of the Senate. CEQ's importance in environmental policy has fluctuated significantly over the years of its existence.

The NEPA is the federal law that requires federal agencies to prepare environmental impact statements (EISs) prior to undertaking or approving any action that might have a significant effect on the quality of the environment. In adopting NEPA, Congress realized that a wide range of federal activity had an impact on environmental quality. In practice, one of the most important functions of CEQ is to oversee the implementation of the EIS process by other federal agencies. Initially, the oversight took the form of guidelines for implementing the EIS process; the guidelines were advisory and not mandatory. In 1979, at the request of President Jimmy Carter, the CEQ issued mandatory regulations that had to be followed by all agencies. Since there had been many court cases interpreting the language of NEPA, the CEQ regulations essentially codified the case law created by the courts. Generally, government regulations interpret and explain confusing statutory language, but unfortunately they themselves are often very confusing. CEQ's regulations under NEPA are an exception to this rule; they are written in clear and concise language. The extensive and clearly written regulations are most likely a factor in the reduced number of court cases filed under NEPA since 1979.

The CEQ was required by law to provide the president with an annual report on the state of the nation's environment. The report would establish the status and condition of the natural environment, the current and foreseeable environmental trends, the adequacy of natural resources for fulfilling the nation's needs, a review of other relevant programs and activities of government and nongovernment organizations, and a program for remedying existing environmental deficiencies. Throughout the 1970s, CEQ's annual report to the president was a treasure trove of information for citizens interested in environmental issues. Since then, CEQ has generally been underfunded, and as a consequence, its annual reports have shrunk in size and are not issued in a timely fashion.

Finally, CEQ acts as a referee in disputes between federal agencies implementing various aspects of NEPA. Although the statute assigns other general, environmentally related tasks to CEQ, the three noted above are the most important and most visible.

CEQ has had a checkered existence. Though active and visible through 1980, President Ronald Regan saw little need for it and sought to eliminate the CEQ. Failing in this endeavor, the President cut CEQ's funding by over 80 percent and failed to appoint any members to the council until the latter years of his presidency. President Bill Clinton prepared legislation that would eliminate CEQ, and transfer its functions to a new cabinet -level Department of the Environment. That legislation failed too. In 1995 the president rejuvenated the CEQ. Its greatest visibility in the Clinton years evolved when its chair, Kathleen McGinty, became the Executive Director of the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD). The PCSD developed, and even began the implementation of, a broad plan for leading the country toward a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle. Though no activity on the part of CEQ may be currently apparent, President George W. Bush appointed a CEQ chairperson in 2001.

see also Environmental Impact Statement; National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

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executive office of the president, council on environmental quality. available from

James P. Karp

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