7 CFR 650.9 - NEPA and interagency planning.
(a) Lead agency.
(1) NRCS is to be the lead agency for actions under programs it administers. If the actions affect more than one State, the NRCS Administrator is to designate one NRCS state conservationist as the RFO.
(2) NRCS normally takes the role of lead agency in actions that share program responsibilities among USDA agencies if NRCS provides the majority of funds for the actions. If the lead agency role is in question, the role of NRCS and other USDA agencies is to be determined by the USDA Environmental Coordinator, Office of Environmental Quality Activities.
(b) Cooperating agencies.
(1) NRCS is to request, as appropriate, the assistance of cooperating agencies in preparing the environmental evaluation. This assistance will broaden the expertise in the planning and help to avoid future conflict. NRCS is to request assistance in determining the scope of issues to be addressed and identifying the significant issues related to a proposed action from Federal agencies that have jurisdiction by law or special expertise.
(2) NRCS is to act as a cooperating agency if requested. NRCS may request to be designated as a cooperating agency if proposed actions may affect areas of NRCS expertise, such as prime farmlands, soils, erosion control, and agricultural sources of nonpoint pollution. NRCS, as a cooperating agency, is to comply with the requirements of 40 CFR 1501.6(b) to the extent possible depending on funds, personnel, and priority. If insufficient funds or other resources prevent NRCS from participating fully as a cooperating agency, NRCS is to request the lead agency to provide funds or other resources which will allow full participation.
(c) Scoping. See 40 CFR 1501.7 for a definition of scoping.
(1) NRCS is to use scoping to identify and categorize significant environmental issues in its environmental evaluation. Formalized scoping is used to insure that an analytical EIS can be prepared that will reduce paperwork and avoid delay. Scoping allows NRCS to obtain the assistance and consultation of affected agencies that have special expertise or legal jurisdiction in the proposed action. If early environmental evaluation identifies a need for an EIS, NRCS is to publish a notice of intent (NOI) to prepare an EIS. The NOI is to request the assistance of all interested agencies, groups, and persons in determining the scope of the evaluation of the proposed action.
(2) Normally a scoping meeting is held and Federal, State, or local agencies that have special expertise or legal jurisdiction in resource values that may be significantly affected are requested to participate. The scoping meeting will identify agencies that may become cooperating agencies.
(3) In the scoping meeting, the range of actions, alternatives, and impacts to be evaluated and included in the EIS as defined in (40 CFR 1508.25) are to be determined. Tiering (40 CFR 1508.28) may be used to define the relation of the proposed statement to other statements.
(4) Periodic meetings of the cooperating agencies are to be held at important decisionmaking points to provide timely interagency, interdisciplinary participation.
(5) Scoping is to include the items listed in 40 CFR 1501.7(a) and may also include any of the activities in 40 CFR 1501.7(b). Appropriate, timely requests and notification are to be made to promote public participation in scoping in accordance with paragraph (d) of this section.
(6) The RFO through the scoping process will set time and page limits as prescribed in 40 CFR 1501.8. Time and page limits are established by NRCS in consultation with sponsors and others according to the projected availability of resources. The RFO is to make the applicant aware of the possible need for revising time and page limits because of changes in resources.
(d) Public participation -
(1) General. Public participation activities begin early in the EE and are to be appropriate to the proposed action. For example, extensive public participation activities are required in the implementation of new programs and project actions, but limited public participation is appropriate for nonproject technical and financial assistance programs on nonfederal land.
(2) Early public involvement. The public is to be invited and encouraged to participate in the early stages of planning, including the consideration of the potential effects of NRCS-assisted actions on significant environmental resources such as wetlands, flood plains, cultural values, endangered species, important farmland.
(3) Project activities. The following are general considerations for providing opportunities for public participation:
(i) Identification of interested public. The interested public consisting of but not limited to individuals, groups, organizations, and government agencies are to be identified, sought out, and encouraged to participate in and contribute to interdisciplinary planning and environmental evaluation.
(ii) Public notices. (40 CFR 1506.6) If the effects of an action are primarily of local concern, notice of each public meeting or hearing should be: Submitted to State and areawide clearinghouses pursuant to OMB Circular A-95 (revised); submitted to Indian tribes if they are interested; published in local newspapers; distributed through other local media; provided to potentially interested community organizations including small business associations; published in newsletters that may be expected to reach potentially interested persons; mailed directly to owners and occupants of nearby or affected property; and posted onsite and offsite in the area where the action is to be located.
(iii) State statutes. If official action by the local units of government cooperating in the proposal is governed by State statute, the public notice and mailing requirement of the statute is to be followed. If the effects of an action are of national concern, notice is to be published in the Federal Register and mailed to national organizations reasonably expected to be interested.
(iv) Public meetings. The RFO, after consultation with the sponsors, is to determine when public meetings or hearings are to be held. Public meetings may be in the form of a workshop, tour, open house, etc. Public involvement will include early discussion of flood-plain management and protection of wetlands, where appropriate. Environmental information is to be presented and discussed along with other appropriate information. To the extent practical, pertinent information should be made available before the meetings.
(4) Nonproject activities. Public participation in the planning and application of conservation practices with individual land users is accomplished primarily through conservation districts. These districts are governed by boards of supervisors directors, commissioners, etc., who are elected and/or appointed to insure that soil, water, related resources, and environmental qualities in the district are maintained and improved. The public is to be encouraged to participate in the development of long-range district programs and district annual plans. The district keeps the public informed through public meetings, district newsletters, news stories, radio and television programs, and annual reports.