USDA: Final rule to speed development of infrastructure projects

By Erin Voegele | September 25, 2019

The USDA published a final rule Sept. 23 that allows agency administrators additional flexibility to obligate federal funds associated with certain infrastructure projects, including those associated with several of its rural development programs.

The agency concurrently published a proposed and direct final rule regarding the change on Nov. 28, 2018. The rulemakings aimed to update the agency’s 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.

A public comment period on the original rulemaking ended Dec. 24, 2018. The USDA said the rule was scheduled to become effective Jan. 7, 2019, without any further action, unless the agency received significant adverse comment before the end of the comment period. Due to the lapse in government funding that occurred from Dec. 23, 2018, through Jan. 25, 2019, the USDA had not taken any final actions with respect to the rule. With the notice published in the Federal Register on Sept. 23, the rulemaking is now final.

According to the UDSA, the rulemaking applies to a variety of Rural Development programs, including the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Program; the Repowering Assistance Program; the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program; and the Rural Energy for America Program.

A full copy of the final rule is available on the Federal Register website.