7 CFR § 1970.53 - CEs involving no or minimal disturbance without an environmental report.

§ 1970.53 CEs involving no or minimal disturbance without an environmental report.

The CEs in this section are for proposals for financial assistance that involve no or minimal alterations in the physical environment and typically occur on previously disturbed land. These actions normally do not require an applicant to submit environmental documentation with the application. However, based on the review of the project description, the Agency may request additional environmental documentation from the applicant at any time, specifically if the Agency determines that extraordinary circumstances may exist. In accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (54 U.S.C. 300101 et seq.) and its implementing regulations under 36 CFR 800.3(a), the Agency has determined that the actions in this section are undertakings, and in accordance with 36 CFR 800.3(a)(1) has identified those undertakings for which no further review under 36 CFR part 800 is required because they have no potential to cause effects to historic properties. In accordance with section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and its implementing regulations at 50 CFR part 402, the Agency has determined that the actions in this section are actions for purposes of the Endangered Species Act, and in accordance with 50 CFR 402.06 has identified those actions for which no further review under 50 CFR part 402 is required because they will have no effect to listed threatened and endangered species.

(a) Routine financial actions. The following are routine financial actions and, as such, are classified as categorical exclusions identified in paragraphs (a)(1) through (7) of this section.

(1) Financial assistance for the purchase, transfer, lease, or other acquisition of real property when no or minimal change in use is reasonably foreseeable.

(i) Real property includes land and any existing permanent or affixed structures.

(ii) “No or minimal change in use is reasonably foreseeable” means no or only a small change in use, capacity, purpose, operation, or design is expected where the foreseeable type and magnitude of impacts would remain essentially the same.

(2) Financial assistance for the purchase, transfer, or lease of personal property or fixtures where no or minimal change in operations is reasonably foreseeable. These include:

(i) Approval of minimal expenditures not affecting the environment such as contracts for long lead-time equipment and purchase options by applicants under the terms of 40 CFR 1506.1(d) and 7 CFR 1970.12;

(ii) Acquisition of end-user equipment and programming for telecommunication distance learning;

(iii) Purchase, replacement, or installation of equipment necessary for the operation of an existing facility (such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Systems (SCADA), energy management or efficiency improvement systems (including heat rate efficiency), replacement or conversion to enable use of renewable fuels, standby internal combustion electric generators, battery energy storage systems, and associated facilities for the primary purpose of providing emergency power);

(iv) Purchase of vehicles (such as those used in business, utility, community, or emergency services operations);

(v) Purchase of existing water rights where no associated construction is involved;

(vi) Purchase of livestock and essential farm equipment, including crop storing and drying equipment; and

(vii) Purchase of stock in an existing enterprise to obtain an ownership interest in that enterprise.

(3) Financial assistance for operating (working) capital for an existing operation to support day-to-day expenses.

(4) Sale or lease of Agency-owned real property, if the sale or lease of Agency-owned real property will have no or minimal construction or change in current operations in the foreseeable future.

(5) The provision of additional financial assistance for cost overruns where the purpose, operation, location, and design of the proposal as originally approved has not been substantially changed.

(6) Rural Business Investment Program (7 U.S.C. 1989 and 2009cc et seq.) actions as follows:

(i) Non-leveraged program actions that include licensing by USDA of Rural Business Investment Companies (RBIC); or

(ii) Leveraged program actions that include licensing by USDA of RBIC and Federal financial assistance in the form of technical grants or guarantees of debentures of an RBIC, unless such Federal assistance is used to finance construction or development of land.

(7) A guarantee provided to a guaranteed lender for the sole purpose of refinancing outstanding bonds or notes or a guarantee provided to the Federal Financing Bank pursuant to Section 313A(a) of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 for the purpose of:

(i) Refinancing existing debt instruments of a lender organized on a not-for-profit basis; or

(ii) Prepaying outstanding notes or bonds made to or guaranteed by the Agency.

(b) Information gathering and technical assistance. The following are CEs for financial assistance, identified in paragraphs (b)(1) through (3) of this section.

(1) Information gathering, data analysis, document preparation, real estate appraisals, environmental site assessments, and information dissemination. Examples of these actions are:

(i) Information gathering such as research, literature surveys, inventories, and audits;

(ii) Data analysis such as computer modeling;

(iii) Document preparation such as strategic plans; conceptual designs; management, economic, planning, or feasibility studies; energy audits or assessments; environmental analyses; and survey and analyses of accounts and business practices; and

(iv) Information dissemination such as document mailings, publication, and distribution; and classroom training and informational programs.

(2) Technical advice, training, planning assistance, and capacity building. Examples of these actions are:

(i) Technical advice, training, planning assistance such as guidance for cooperatives and self-help housing group planning; and

(ii) Capacity building such as leadership training, strategic planning, and community development training.

(3) Site characterization, environmental testing, and monitoring where no significant alteration of existing ambient conditions would occur. This includes, but is not limited to, air, surface water, groundwater, wind, soil, or rock core sampling; installation of monitoring wells; and installation of small-scale air, water, or weather monitoring equipment.

(c) Minor construction proposals. The following are CEs that apply to financial assistance for minor construction proposals:

(1) Minor amendments or revisions to previously approved projects provided such activities do not alter the purpose, operation, geographic scope, or design of the project as originally approved;

(2) Repair, upgrade, or replacement of equipment in existing structures for such purposes as improving habitability, energy efficiency (including heat rate efficiency), replacement or conversion to enable use of renewable fuels, pollution prevention, or pollution control;

(3) Any internal modification or minimal external modification, restoration, renovation, maintenance, and replacement in-kind to an existing facility or structure;

(4) Construction of or substantial improvement to a single-family dwelling, or a Rural Housing Site Loan project or multi-family housing project serving up to four families and affecting less than 10 acres of land;

(5) Siting, construction, and operation of new or additional water supply wells for residential, farm, or livestock use;

(6) Replacement of existing water and sewer lines within the existing right-of-way and as long as the size of pipe is either no larger than the inner diameter of the existing pipe or is an increased diameter as required by Federal or state requirements. If a larger pipe size is required, applicants must provide a copy of written administrative requirements mandating a minimum pipe diameter from the regulatory agency with jurisdiction;

(7) Modifications of an existing water supply well to restore production in existing commercial well fields, if there would be no drawdown other than in the immediate vicinity of the pumping well, no resulting long-term decline of the water table, and no degradation of the aquifer from the replacement well;

(8) New utility service connections to individual users or construction of utility lines or associated components where the applicant has no control over the placement of the utility facilities; and

(9) Conversion of land in agricultural production to pastureland or forests, or conversion of pastureland to forest.

(d) Energy or telecommunication proposals. The following are CEs that apply to financial assistance for energy or telecommunication proposals:

(1) Upgrading or rebuilding existing telecommunication facilities (both wired and wireless) or addition of aerial cables for communication purposes to electric power lines that would not affect the environment beyond the previously-developed, existing rights-of-way;

(2) Burying new facilities for communication purposes in previously developed, existing rights-of-way and in areas already in or committed to urbanized development or rural settlements whether incorporated or unincorporated that are characterized by high human densities and within contiguous, highly disturbed environments with human-built features. Covered actions include associated vaults and pulling and tensioning sites outside rights-of-way in nearby previously disturbed or developed land;

(3) Changes to electric transmission lines that involve pole replacement or structural components only where either the same or substantially equivalent support structures at the approximate existing support structure locations are used;

(4) Phase or voltage conversions, reconductoring, upgrading, or rebuilding of existing electric distribution lines that would not affect the environment beyond the previously developed, existing rights-of-way. Includes pole replacements but does not include overhead-to-underground conversions;

(5) Collocation of telecommunications equipment on existing infrastructure and deployment of distributed antenna systems and small cell networks provided the latter technologies are not attached to and will not cause adverse effects to historic properties;

(6) Siting, construction, and operation of small, ground source heat pump systems that would be located on previously developed land;

(7) Siting, construction, and operation of small solar electric projects or solar thermal projects to be installed on or adjacent to an existing structure and that would not affect the environment beyond the previously developed facility area and are not attached to and will not cause adverse effects to historic properties;

(8) Siting, construction, and operation of small biomass projects, such as animal waste anaerobic digesters or gasifiers, that would use feedstock produced on site (such as a farm where the site has been previously disturbed) and supply gas or electricity for the site's own energy needs with no or only incidental export of energy;

(9) Construction of small standby electric generating facilities with a rating of one average megawatt (MW) or less, and associated facilities, for the purpose of providing emergency power for or startup of an existing facility;

(10) Additions or modifications to electric transmission facilities that would not affect the environment beyond the previously developed facility area including, but not limited to, switchyard rock, grounding upgrades, secondary containment projects, paving projects, seismic upgrading, tower modifications, changing insulators, and replacement of poles, circuit breakers, conductors, transformers, and crossarms; and

(11) Safety, environmental, or energy efficiency (including heat rate efficiency) improvements within an existing electric generation facility, including addition, replacement, or upgrade of facility components (such as precipitator, baghouse, or scrubber installations), that do not result in a change to the design capacity or function of the facility and do not result in an increase in pollutant emissions, effluent discharges, or waste products.

(e) Emergency situations. Repairs made because of an emergency situation to return to service damaged facilities of an applicant's utility system or other actions necessary to preserve life and control the immediate impacts of the emergency.

(f) Promulgation of rules or formal notices. The promulgation of rules or formal notices for policies or programs that are administrative or financial procedures for implementing Agency assistance activities.

(g) Agency proposals for legislation. Agency proposals for legislation that have no potential for significant environmental impacts because they would allow for no or minimal construction or change in operations.

(h) Administrative actions. Agency procurement activities for goods and services; routine facility operations; personnel actions, including but not limited to, reduction in force or employee transfers resulting from workload adjustments, and reduced personnel or funding levels; and other such management actions related to the operation of the Agency.

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