Background: The USDA has published a direct final rule and a related proposed rule to amend its “Environmental Policies and Procedures” regulation at 7 CFR 1970 to create limited flexibility to obligate federal funds for infrastructure projects prior to completion of the environmental review while ensuring full compliance with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures prior to project construction and disbursement of funding. As a result, the amendment will allow the agency to obligate funding conditioned upon the full and satisfactory completion of environmental review for infrastructure projects. The USDA asserts that this change will give applicants, and often the distressed communities they represent, some comfort to proceed with an economic development strategy, including the planning process associated with NEPA, without fear that funds may be rescinded before the NEPA process is completed. The agency also states that the change furthers its goals of speeding the initiation of infrastructure projects and encouraging planned community economic development without additional cost to taxpayers or change to environmental review requirements.
- The direct final rule will become effective as of January 7, 2019 unless significant adverse comment is received by December 24, 2018. If significant adverse comment is received, the USDA will withdraw the direct final rule and proceed with the related proposed rule. Comments can be submitted via the eRulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov using Docket ID RUS-18-AGENCY-0005.