USDA rule to help speed development of infrastructure projects

By Erin Voegele | November 29, 2018

The USDA is taking action to allow agency administrators additional flexibility to obligate federal funds associated with certain infrastructure projects, including those associated with several of its rural development programs.

On Nov. 23, the USDA published a direct final rule in the Federal Register updating its environmental policies and procedures regulation to allow agency administrators 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 procedures prior to project construction and disbursement of any Rural Development funding. The agency said the change will allow USDA Rural Development to more fully meet the administration’s goals to speed the initiation of infrastructure projects and encourage planned community economic development without additional costs to taxpayers or change to environmental review requirements.

The direct final rule applies to a variety of Rural Development programs, including the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program, the Repowering Assistance Program, the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, and the Rural Energy for America Program.

The direct final rule will become effective Jan. 7, unless the USDA receives significant adverse comments, or an intent to submit a significant adverse comment, by Dec. 24. Additional information, including a full list of Rural Development programs impacted by the rulemaking, is available on the Federal Register website.