7 CFR § 650.12 - NRCS decisionmaking.

§ 650.12 NRCS decisionmaking.

(a) General. The purpose of these procedures is to insure that environmental information is provided to decision makers in a timely manner. The NEPA process is a part of NRCS decisionmaking. The RFO is to insure that the policies and purposes of NEPA and CEQ regulations are complied with in NRCS decisionmaking by:

(1) Including in all decision documents and supporting environmental documents a discussion of all alternatives considered in the decision. Alternatives to be considered in reaching a decision will be available to the public.

(2) Submitting relevant environmental documents, comments, and responses with other decision documents through the review process.

(3) Including in the record of formal rulemaking or adjudicatory proceedings relevent environmental documents, comments and responses.

(4) Providing for pre- and post-project monitoring (40 CFR 1505.2(c), 1505.3) and evaluation in representative projects to insure that planning and evaluation procedures are performed according to sound criteria.

(b) Decision points in NRCS-assisted projects. NRCS administers programs that may have a significant effect on the human environment. Program procedures incorporate provisions for compliance with NEPA and for providing environmental information to the public, other agencies, and decision makers in a timely manner. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance for projects under the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention and the Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) programs. These usually require the preparation of project EA's or EIS's. The major decisionmaking points and their relation to NEPA compliance are as follows:

(1) For Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention projects:

(i) Application for assistance by the sponsoring local organization (SLO).

(ii) A preauthorization report identifying goals, alternatives, and effects of alternatives (including environmental impacts) prepared by the RFO and submitted to the applicant for decision. It is circulated to local, State, and Federal agencies and public comment is solicited. A decision is made to stop planning assistance or to develop a watershed plan.

(iii) Granting of planning authorization by the Administrator. The RFO must provide an evaluation of the potential environmental impacts to obtain the authorization.

(iv) A watershed agreement between the SLO and NRCS. The agreement is based on a completed watershed plan and associated environmental documents, which have been adequately reviewed within NRCS.

(v) A project agreement between the SLO and the RFO executed after the NEPA process is complete and the watershed plan has been approved and final plans and specifications have been developed.

(2) For RC&D measure plans:

(i) A request for assistance (measure proposal) is reviewed by the RC&D council to insure that the proposal is in accordance with the RC&D area plan. The proposal is then referred to NRCS.

(ii) A preliminary report is prepared by the RFO to identify goals, alternatives, and effects (including environmental impacts). The report is submitted to the sponsor for review. The sponsor may then apply to NRCS for planning assistance for measures considered in the preliminary report.

(iii) An authorization for planning assistance is granted by the RFO.

(iv) The RC&D measure plan is signed by the applicant and the RFO after the preparation and review of the measure plan and environmental documents.

(v) A project agreement is signed between the applicant and the RFO after the NEPA process is complete, the measure plan has been approved, and final plans and specifications have been prepared.

(c) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of decision The RFO is to prepare a concise record of decision (ROD) for actions requiring an EIS. The record of decision is to be prepared and signed by the RFO following the 30-day administrative action period initiated by the EPA's publication of the notice of availability of the final EIS in the Federal Register. It is to serve as the public record of decision as described in 40 CFR 1505.2 of the CEQ regulations. The ROD is to be distributed to all who provided substantive comments on the draft EIS and all others who request it. A notice of availability of the ROD will be published in the Federal Register and local newspaper(s) serving the project area. The RFO may choose to publish the entire ROD.

(d) Environmental Assessments and Finding of No Significant Impact (FNSI) -

(1) EA's. If the EA indicates that the proposed action is not a major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, the RFO is to prepare a finding of no significant impact (FNSI).

(2) Availability of the FNSI (40 CFR 1501.4(e)(2)). In accordance with CEQ regulations at 40 CFR 1501.4(e)(2), NRCS shall make the EA/FNSI available for public review for thirty days in the following instances: The proposed action is, or closely similar to, one which normally requires the preparation of an EIS as defined by NRCS NEPA implementing regulations at § 650.7, or the nature of the action is one without precedent. When availability for public review for thirty days is not required, NRCS will involve the public in the preparation of the EA/FONSI and make the EA/FONSI available for public review in accordance with CEQ regulations at 40 CFR 1501.4(b) and 1506.6.

(e) Changes in actions. When it appears that a project or other action needs to be changed, the RFO will perform an environmental evaluation of the authorized action to determine whether a supplemental NEPA analysis is necessary before making a change.

[44 FR 50579, Aug. 29, 1979, as amended at 73 FR 35886, June 25, 2008]