7 CFR § 1970.11 - Timing of the environmental review process.
(a) Once an applicant decides to request Agency financial assistance, the applicant must initiate the environmental review process at the earliest possible time to ensure that planning, design, and other decisions reflect environmental policies and values, avoid delays, and minimize potential conflicts. This includes early coordination with the Agency, all funding partners, and regulatory agencies, in order to minimize duplication of effort.
(b) The environmental review process must be concluded before the obligation of funds; except for infrastructure projects where the assurance that funds will be available for community health, safety, or economic development has been determined as necessary by the Agency Administrator. At the discretion of the Agency Administrator, funds may be obligated contingent upon the conclusion of the environmental review process prior to any action that would have an adverse effect on the environment or limit the choices of any reasonable alternatives. Funds so obligated shall be rescinded if the Agency cannot conclude the environmental review process before the end of the fiscal year after the year in which the funds were obligated, or if the Agency determines that it cannot proceed with approval based on findings in the environmental review process. For the purposes of this section, infrastructure projects shall include projects such as broadband, telecommunications, electric, energy efficiency, smart grid, water, sewer, transportation, and energy capital investments in physical plant and equipment, but not investments authorized in the Housing Act of 1949.
(c) The environmental review process is formally concluded when all of the following have occurred:
(2) All required public notices have been published and public comment periods have elapsed;
(3) All comments received during any established comment period have been considered and addressed, as appropriate by the Agency;
(5) The appropriate environmental decision document has been executed by the Agency after paragraphs (c)(1) through (4) of this section have been concluded.
(d) For proposed actions listed in § 1970.151 and to ensure Agency compliance with the conflict of interest provisions in 40 CFR 1506.5(c), the Agency is responsible for selecting any third-party EIS contractor and participating in the EIS preparation. For more information regarding acquisition of professional services and funding of a third-party contractor, refer to § 1970.152.
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