RVARC staff recently attended a training held by the USDA at the Greenfield Training and Education Center on new review processes for assessing the environmental impacts of USDA funded projects. This training followed adoption of a new set of environmental policies and procedures on the part of the USDA Rural Development Agency (the Rural Utilities Service, the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, and the Rural Housing Service) that went into effect on April 1st of this year. These regulations meet the requirements for the USDA to “assess and consider the impacts of proposed federal actions…to the human environment in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and other applicable federal, state, and local environmental laws.” (RD Instruction 1970-B, Exhibit C)
The new rules can be found under code 7 CFR 1970, and replace previous regulations 7 CFR Part 1794 and 7 CFR Part 1940-G. The rules simplify the review process, bringing reviews for all services and projects under the same regulations. Recipients of assistance from the Rural Development Agency will find their project classified as following one of three review paths. Projects will require documentation in the form of Categorical Exclusions (CE), Environmental Assessments (EA) or Environmental Impact Statements (EIS). An applicant to a Rural Development program is responsible for consulting with agency staff to determine which track they should follow early in the process. They are also responsible for contacting relevant state and Federal agencies as appropriate. Applicants should be aware that the USDA environmental review process does not replace other required review processes at the state or local level, and should contact the relevant officials accordingly.
The USDA Rural Development programs offer valuable opportunities in the form of grants and loans to localities, businesses, and individuals. More information about their programs can be found here. RVARC staff is happy to provide more information to the public about the new review process as requested.