[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 148 (Friday, August 1, 2014)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 44635-44641]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-17993]


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Rules and Regulations
                                                Federal Register
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Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 148 / Friday, August 1, 2014 / Rules 
and Regulations

[[Page 44635]]



DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Natural Resources Conservation Service

7 CFR Parts 610, 622, 625, 652, and 662

Commodity Credit Corporation

7 CFR Parts 1455 and 1465

[Docket No. NRCS-2014-0006]
RIN 0578-AA60


Changes to Existing Conservation Program Regulations

AGENCY: Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Commodity Credit 
Corporation, United States Department of Agriculture.

ACTION: Interim rule with request for comment.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: The Agricultural Act of 2014 (the 2014 Act) made several, 
nondiscretionary changes to the Natural Resources Conservation Service 
(NRCS) conservation programs. These conservation programs have existing 
regulations that require adjustments, including addressing the required 
review of operating procedures of the State Technical Committee, adding 
reference of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to 
the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act program regulations, 
adding reference of the RCPP to, and expanding the definition of, 
``acreage owned by Indian Tribes'' under the Healthy Forests Reserve 
Program (HFRP), revising and simplifying the Regional Equity provision, 
and adjusting the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) program to 
correspond with changes to payment provisions under the Environmental 
Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Additionally, the Secretary of 
Agriculture has delegated to NRCS administrative responsibility for 
implementation of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive 
Program (VPA-HIP) and internal NRCS administrative changes warrant 
updating the appropriate delegated official in the technical service 
provider (TSP) provision. This interim rule, with request for comments, 
implements changes to these NRCS conservation program regulations that 
are either necessitated by enactment of the 2014 Act or are required to 
implement administrative streamlining improvements and clarifications.

DATES: Effective Date: This rule is effective August 1, 2014.
    Comment date: Submit comments on or before September 30, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments using one of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. 
Follow the instructions for submitting comments for Docket No. NRCS-
2014-0006.
     U.S. mail or hand delivery: Public Comments Processing, 
Attn: Docket No. NRCS-2014-0006, Regulatory and Agency Policy Team, 
Strategic Planning and Accountability, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 
Natural Resources Conservation Service, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Building 
1-1112D, Beltsville, MD 20705. NRCS will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. Personal information provided with comments will 
be posted. If your comment includes your address, phone number, email 
address, or other personal identifying information, please be aware 
that your entire comment, including this personal information, will be 
made publicly available. Do not include personal information with your 
comment submission if you do not wish for it to be made public.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Leslie Deavers, NRCS Farm Bill 
Coordinator, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources 
Conservation Service, P.O. Box 2890, Washington, DC 20013-2890; 
telephone: (202) 720-1510; fax: (202) 720-2998; or email: 
leslie.deavers@wdc.usda.gov, Attn: Farm Bill Program Inquiry.
    Persons with disabilities who require alternate means for 
communication (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact 
the USDA TARGET Center at: (202) 720-2600 (voice and TDD).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Regulatory Certifications

Executive Orders 12866 and 13563

    The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) designated this rule as 
not significant under Executive Order 12866 and, therefore, OMB will 
not review this interim rule.

Clarity of the Regulation

    Executive Order 12866, as supplemented by Executive Order 13563, 
requires each agency to write all rules in plain language. In addition 
to your substantive comments on this interim rule, we invite your 
comments on how to make its provisions easier to understand. For 
example:
     Are the requirements in the rule clearly stated? Are the 
scope and intent of the rule clear?
     Does the rule contain technical language or jargon that is 
not clear?
     Is the material logically organized?
     Would changing the grouping or order of sections or adding 
headings make the rule easier to understand?
     Could we improve clarity by adding tables, lists, or 
diagrams?
     Would more, but shorter, sections be better? Are there 
specific sections that are too long or confusing?
     What else could we do to make the rule easier to 
understand?

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    It has been determined that the Regulatory Flexibility Act is not 
applicable to this interim rule because NRCS is not required by 5 
U.S.C. 553, or any other provision of law, to publish a notice of 
proposed rulemaking with respect to the subject matter of this rule.

Environmental Analysis

    The 2014 Act made changes in statutory authority and administrative 
delegations that require conforming amendments to existing program 
regulations. The changes made to these regulations by this rule will 
ensure that the regulations conform to the new statutory authorities 
and delegations. Such changes are mandatory and, therefore, do not 
require analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act. In 
addition, a number of minor administrative improvements are made to the 
regulations as a result of continuing evaluations of NRCS program 
implementation efforts. Such

[[Page 44636]]

administrative changes fall within a categorical exclusion for policy 
development, planning, and implementation which relate to routine 
administrative activities (7 CFR 1b.3(a)(1)).

Civil Rights Impact Analysis

    NRCS has determined through a Civil Rights Impact Analysis that 
this interim rule discloses no disproportionately adverse impacts for 
minorities, women, or persons with disabilities. The mandatory changes 
in these existing regulations present no issues that our analysis 
identified as posing a risk of adverse impacts. Outreach and 
communication strategies are in place to ensure all producers will be 
provided the same information to allow them to make informed compliance 
decisions regarding the use of their lands that will affect their 
participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs. 
NRCS conservation programs apply to all persons equally regardless of 
their race, color, national origin, gender, sex, or disability status. 
Therefore, the conservation program rules portend no adverse civil 
rights implications for women, minorities, and persons with 
disabilities.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    Section 1246 of the Food Security Act of 1985 (1985 Act), Public 
Law 99-198, states that implementation of programs authorized by Title 
XII of the 1985 Act be made without regard to the Paperwork Reduction 
Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.). Therefore, NRCS is not reporting 
recordkeeping or estimated paperwork burden associated with this 
interim rule.

Government Paperwork Elimination Act

    NRCS is committed to compliance with the Government Paperwork 
Elimination Act and the Freedom to E-File Act, which require government 
agencies, in general, to provide the public the option of submitting 
information or transacting business electronically to the maximum 
extent possible. To better accommodate public access, NRCS has 
developed an online application and information system for public use.

Executive Order 13175

    This interim rule has been reviewed in accordance with the 
requirements of Executive Order 13175, Consultation and Coordination 
with Indian Tribal Governments. Executive Order 13175 requires Federal 
agencies to consult and coordinate with Tribes on a government-to-
government basis on policies that have Tribal implications, including 
regulations, legislative comments or proposed legislation, and other 
policy statements or actions that have been substantial direct effects 
on one or more Indian Tribes, on the relationship between the Federal 
Government and Indian Tribes, or on the distribution of power and 
responsibilities between the Federal Government and Indian Tribes. NRCS 
has assessed the impact of this interim rule on Indian Tribes and 
determined that this rule does not have Tribal implications that 
require Tribal consultation under EO 13175. The rule neither imposes 
substantial direct compliance costs on Tribal governments nor preempts 
Tribal law. The 2014 Act change addressed in this interim rule that 
impact participation by Indian Tribes was limited to expanding land 
eligibility under HFRP to include trust lands. The agency has developed 
an outreach/collaboration plan that it will implement as it develops 
its Farm Bill policy. If a Tribe requests consultation, NRCS will work 
with the Office of Tribal Relations to ensure meaningful consultation 
is provided where changes, additions, and modifications identified 
herein are not expressly mandated by Congress.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995

    Title II of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (UMRA), Public 
Law 104-4, requires Federal agencies to assess the effects of their 
regulatory actions on State, local, and Tribal governments or the 
private sector of $100 million or more in any one year. When such a 
statement is needed for a rule, section 205 of the UMRA requires NRCS 
to prepare a written statement, including a cost benefit assessment, 
for proposed and final rules with ``Federal mandates'' that may result 
in such expenditures for State, local, or Tribal governments, in the 
aggregate, or to the private sector. UMRA generally requires agencies 
to consider alternatives and adopt the more cost effective or least 
burdensome alternative that achieves the objectives of the rule.
    This rule contains no Federal mandates, as defined under Title II 
of the UMRA, for State, local, and Tribal governments or the private 
sector. Thus, this rule is not subject to the requirements of sections 
202 and 205 of UMRA.

Executive Order 13132

    NRCS has considered this interim rule in accordance with Executive 
Order 13132, issued August 4, 1999. NRCS has determined that the 
interim rule conforms with the Federalism principles set out in this 
Executive Order; would not impose any compliance costs on the States; 
and would not have substantial direct effects on the States, on the 
relationship between the Federal Government and the States, or on the 
distribution of power and responsibilities among the various levels of 
government. Therefore, NRCS concludes that this interim rule does not 
have Federalism implications.

Federal Crop Insurance Reform and Department of Agriculture 
Reorganization Act of 1994

    Pursuant to section 304 of the Federal Crop Insurance Reform Act of 
1994 (Pub. L. 103-354), USDA has estimated that this regulation will 
not have an annual impact on the economy of $100,000,000 in 1994 
dollars, and therefore, is not a major regulation. Therefore, a risk 
analysis was not conducted.

Executive Order 13211

    This rule is not a significant regulatory action subject to 
Executive Order 13211, Energy Effects.

Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA)

    This rule is not a major rule under the Small Business Regulatory 
Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996, (Pub. L. 104-121, SBREFA). Therefore, 
neither NRCS nor the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) is required to 
delay the effective date for 60 days from the date of publication to 
allow for congressional review. Accordingly, this rule is effective 
August 1, 2014.

Registration and Reporting Requirements of the Federal Funding and 
Transparency Act of 2006

    OMB published two regulations, 2 CFR part 25 and 2 CFR part 170, to 
assist agencies and recipients of Federal financial assistance comply 
with the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 
(Pub. L. 109-282, as amended). Both regulations have implementation 
requirements effective as of October 1, 2010.
    The regulations at 2 CFR part 25 require, with some exceptions, 
recipients of Federal financial assistance to apply for and receive a 
Dun and Bradstreet Universal Numbering Systems (DUNS) number and 
register in the Central Contractor Registry. The regulations at 2 CFR 
part 170 establish new requirements for Federal financial assistance 
applicants, recipients, and subrecipients. The regulation provides 
standard wording that each agency must include in its awarding of 
financial assistance that requires recipients to report information 
about first-tier

[[Page 44637]]

subawards and executive compensation under those awards.
    NRCS has determined that 2 CFR part 25 and 2 CFR part 170 apply to 
awards of financial assistance provided under its conservation 
programs. Though the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and NRCS have identified 
these requirements in program announcements and awards, this interim 
rule updates the VPA-HIP regulation to reflect these Transparency Act 
requirements. NRCS will continue to include the requisite provisions as 
part of its financial assistance awards.

Comments Invited

    NRCS invites interested persons to participate in this rulemaking 
by submitting written comments or views about the changes made by this 
interim rule. The most helpful comments reference a specific portion of 
the regulation, explain the reason for any recommended changes, and 
include supporting data and references to statutory language. All 
comments received on or before the closing date for comments will be 
considered. This regulation may be changed because of the comments 
received. All comments received, as well as a report summarizing each 
substantive public comment received concerning this interim rule, will 
be filed in the docket. The docket, including any personal information 
provided, will be made available for public inspection at: http://www.regulations.gov.

Background

    This interim rule makes a number of minor changes to existing NRCS 
rules for various reasons. The 2014 Act made nondiscretionary changes 
to several conservation programs, including requiring review of 
operating procedures of the State Technical Committee (7 CFR part 610, 
subpart C); authorizing the use of the Watershed Protection and Flood 
Prevention Act to implement the RCPP in Critical Conservation Areas; 
expanding the definition of ``acreage owned by Indian Tribes'' under 
the HFRP (7 CFR part 625) and authorizing the use of HFRP to implement 
RCPP; and simplifying and streamlining the Regional Equity requirement 
(7 CFR part 662). The Secretary of Agriculture delegated authority to 
NRCS to implement the VPA-HIP (7 CFR part 1455), requiring conforming 
amendments to the regulation originally published by FSA. Internal NRCS 
administrative changes warrant updating the appropriate delegated 
official in the TSP provision (7 CFR part 652). Finally, slight 
adjustments are needed to the AMA program regulation (7 CFR part 1465) 
to maintain its historic consistency with the amended administrative 
provisions of EQIP.

Discussion of State Technical Committee (7 CFR Part 610, Subpart C)

    The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Act) 
amended section 1261(b)(1) of the 1985 Act to require the Secretary to 
develop standard operating procedures for committees within 180 days of 
enactment of the 2008 Act. The 2014 Act further requires the Secretary 
to review and update State Technical Committee operating standards as 
necessary. The standard operating procedures outline items such as the 
best practice approach to establishing, organizing, and effectively 
utilizing State Technical Committees and Local Working Groups; 
direction on publication of meeting notices, agendas, and State 
Technical Committee meeting summaries; how to provide feedback on State 
Conservationist decisions regarding State Technical Committee 
recommendations; and other items as determined by the Chief.
    The 2014 Act changes regarding the review and update of the 
operating procedures do not require any changes to the regulations 
themselves. NRCS has initiated the necessary review of the operating 
procedures. The operating procedures, and any changes made through the 
current review of their provisions, will be made available at: http://directives.sc.egov.usda.gov/.
    The current regulation at 7 CFR 610.24 identifies the programs 
under Title XII of the 1985 Act about which the State Technical 
Committee provides advice and input and also provides flexibility to 
encompass any additional programs authorized by Title XII of the 1985 
Act. However, to ensure that there is no confusion, NRCS is amending 7 
CFR 610.24 to include a current listing of programs as amended by the 
2014 Act.

Discussion of the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program (7 
CFR Part 622)

    The Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954, as 
amended (Pub. L. 83-566) (Watershed Operations) authorizes NRCS to 
install watershed improvement measures to reduce flooding, 
sedimentation, and erosion damage; improve the conservation, 
development, utilization, and disposal of water; and advance the 
conservation and proper utilization of land. Working in cooperation 
with soil conservation districts and other local sponsoring 
organizations, NRCS prepares detailed watershed plans that outline soil 
and water management problems and proposals to alleviate the problems, 
including estimated benefits and costs, cost-sharing arrangements, and 
operation and maintenance arrangements.
    Section 1271F(c)(3) of the 1985 Act, as amended by the 2014 Act 
authorizes the Secretary to use the Watershed Operations program to 
carry out projects for the purposes of RCPP (Subtitle I of Title XII of 
the 1985 Act, as amended) in Critical Conservation Areas designated by 
the Secretary. RCPP replaces the Agricultural Water Enhancement 
Program, Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, Cooperative Conservation 
Partnership Initiative, and the Great Lakes Basin Program for soil 
erosion and sediment control. Like the programs it replaces, RCPP will 
operate through regulations in place for contributing programs. The 
other RCPP contributing programs include EQIP, Conservation Stewardship 
Program, HFRP, and the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. 
NRCS is adding reference to part 622 to identify that eligible 
watershed projects include projects selected for funding under RCPP. 
This language is needed to facilitate the use of the Watershed 
Operations programs to carry out projects for the purposes of RCPP in 
Critical Conservation Areas identified by the Secretary.

Discussion of the Healthy Forests Reserve Program (7 CFR Part 625)

    HFRP is authorized by Title V of the Healthy Forests Restoration 
Act of 2003 (Pub. L. 108-148). HFRP restores and enhances forest 
ecosystems in order to: (1) Promote the recovery of threatened and 
endangered species, (2) improve biodiversity, and (3) enhance carbon 
sequestration. Land enrolled in HFRP is subject to a forest restoration 
plan, and NRCS enrolls land through the purchase of a permanent 
conservation easement, an easement for the maximum duration allowed 
under State law, a 30-year conservation easement or contract, or 
through entering a 10-year restoration agreement. In addition to 
permanent and 30-year easements, HFRP offers an additional enrollment 
option to Indian Tribes to enroll ``acreage owned by Indian Tribes'' 
through 30-year contracts.
    The 2014 Act amended section 502(e)(3) of the Healthy Forests 
Restoration Act by adding a definition of ``acreage owned by Indian 
Tribes'' which includes lands held in Trust by the United States and 
allotted lands which contain restraints against alienation. This 
definition is inconsistent with the current regulatory

[[Page 44638]]

definition of ``acreage owned by Indian Tribes.'' Therefore, NRCS must 
amend the definition of HFRP regulation at 7 CFR 625.2 to conform the 
regulatory definition to the new statutory definition.
    Additionally, section 2401 of the 2014 Act identifies HFRP as a 
covered program under RCPP. As mentioned above, RCPP will operate 
through regulations in place for contributing programs, and NRCS is 
adding reference to part 625 to identify that eligible projects include 
HFRP projects selected for funding under RCPP. In addition, NRCS is 
adding language to allow the Chief to waive nonstatutory discretionary 
regulatory provisions and operational procedures where the Chief 
determines that the waiver will further the purposes of HFRP in 
accordance with the 2014 Act. This language is needed to facilitate 
RCPP implementation using HFRP in RCPP partner project areas.

Discussion of the Technical Service Provider (7 CFR Part 652)

    The 2014 Act did not make any changes to the implementation the TSP 
provision; however, internal NRCS administrative changes warrant 
updating the appropriate delegated official in the TSP provision. Since 
the TSP final rule was published in 2004, NRCS has modified what 
official has delegated responsibility for several aspects of the 
decertification process for TSPs. In particular, the existing TSP 
regulation identifies the decertification official as the State 
Conservationist. However, having a relatively large number of State 
Conservationists as decertification officials increases the difficulty 
of consistently applying the TSP decertification process. Many TSPs 
also provide services across State boundaries, further complicating the 
implementation of TSP decertification policy. NRCS has determined that 
the decertification process will be more uniformly implemented at the 
national level.
    NRCS is updating subpart C of the TSP rule by replacing the State 
Conservationist with the Deputy Chief for Programs as the 
decertification official. The role of the State Conservationist will be 
to propose decertification, through a notice, identifying the causes 
for decertification to the Deputy Chief for Programs. Once the Deputy 
Chief for Programs has issued a written determination, TSPs will 
continue to be able to appeal in writing to the Chief of NRCS, if 
necessary.

Discussion of Regional Equity (7 CFR Part 662)

    Section 2701 of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 
(the 2002 Act) amended Subtitle H of the 1985 Act to include Regional 
Equity. Regional Equity, as established in the 2002 Act, required the 
Secretary to give priority for funding under conservation programs in 
Subtitle D of the 1985 Act, excluding the Conservation Reserve Program, 
the Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Conservation Security Program.
    The Secretary was to give priority to approved applications in any 
States that did not receive an aggregate amount of at least $12 million 
for those conservation programs specified in the statute. The funding 
made available to these States in order to reach the $12 million 
requirement, was taken from those States that had initial aggregate 
funding allocations of specified conservation programs greater than $12 
million. NRCS implemented the Regional Equity provision utilizing 
multiple funding procedures from fiscal year (FY) 2004 through FY 2008.
    The 2008 Act amended the Regional Equity provision, increasing the 
regional equity threshold used to identify regional equity States from 
$12 million to $15 million, and adding language to require 
consideration of the respective demand in each regional equity State. 
NRCS developed the Regional Equity regulation to reflect the statutory 
language.
    The 2014 Act amends and simplifies the Regional Equity provision. 
The new Regional Equity provision eliminates the previous April 1 
deadline for funding applications, replacing it with a requirement to 
allow States to establish their ability to utilize funding of at least 
0.6 percent of the funds made available for covered conservation 
programs. States that establish their ability to use the funds would 
receive at least this amount as part of the normal allocation process. 
This process is consistent with the agency's regular process used to 
allocate funding to all States, whether they are covered by the 
regional equity provision or not.
    Therefore, the revised Regional Equity provision can be implemented 
as an internal administrative matter that does not require a stand-
alone regulation. Agency efficiency would be enhanced by having the 
entire allocation process developed and carried out through the 
existing internal allocation process. This would improve consistency in 
the allocation process.
    Though the regulation was considered necessary after the 2008 Farm 
Bill, the new provision in the 2014 Farm Bill is less prescriptive and 
can be implemented through the agency's regular process to allocate 
funding, making a regulation unnecessary. Additionally, the report on 
the Senate version of the 2014 Farm Bill, (the ``Agriculture Reform, 
Food and Jobs Act of 2013,'' S. 954 (2013)) on which the language in 
the 2014 Farm Bill was based, indicated that the changes were intended 
to assist in streamlining agency process, stating that the change to a 
target of 0.6 percent rather than $15 million was made ``in order to 
allow allocations to synchronize with annual appropriations.'' (S. Rep. 
113-88, Sept. 4, 2013, p. 100.)
    Regional Equity is a statutory funding requirement that requires 
NRCS to shift overall funding levels between States as compared to the 
results of the regular agency merit-based allocation formulas. 
Implementing Regional Equity simply adds a step to the process to 
identify the Regional Equity States and to shift a relatively minor 
level of funding to each of those States to reach the statutory 
threshold. Depending upon the available funding for allocation, the 
threshold may range anywhere from more than $10 million to less than 
$20 million per State, with much of the threshold being met through the 
normal program allocation process. In FY 2013, only nine States were 
identified as Regional Equity States, and only five had a total need to 
have funds shifted in an amount over $4 million.
    The Regional Equity provision does not affect a participant's 
eligibility in any of the conservation programs, nor affect any roles 
and responsibilities between the agency and a program participant under 
a conservation program contract. The existing regulation does not 
govern any program benefit to which any applicant or participant may be 
entitled. Removing the current regulation would be consistent with the 
way this provision was carried out from FY 2002-2008.
    The 2014 Act only directs NRCS to promulgate regulations necessary 
to implement conservation programs, not internal allocation and budget 
procedures. Therefore, NRCS is removing the Regional Equity regulation 
from the CFR.

Discussion of Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program 
(VPA-HIP) (7 CFR Part 1455)

    The VPA-HIP is authorized by section 1240R of the 1985 Act. VPA-HIP 
provides, within funding limits, grants to State and Tribal governments 
to encourage owners and operators of privately-held farm, ranch, and 
forest land to voluntarily make that land

[[Page 44639]]

available for access by the public for wildlife-dependent recreation, 
including hunting and fishing under programs administered by State and 
Tribal governments. VPA-HIP is not an entitlement program, and no grant 
will be made unless the application is acceptable to the CCC. The 
program was originally delegated to the Administrator of FSA to 
administer on behalf of the CCC. The program is now delegated to the 
Chief of NRCS. NRCS seeks to use the same regulation that FSA 
promulgated on CCC's behalf and update the regulation to reflect the 
new delegation.
    FSA promulgated the final rule for VPA-HIP in July 2010, and OMB 
published regulations in September 2010 for the Federal Funding 
Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (Pub. L. 109-282, as 
amended). Therefore, NRCS is amending the VPA-HIP regulation to add the 
requirements that grantees must comply with OMB regulations at 2 CFR 
parts 25 and 170.
    NRCS is also updating the VPA-HIP regulation to reflect that the 
program is subject to the provisions of 2 CFR 200, Uniform 
Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements 
for Federal Awards.

Discussion of the Agricultural Management Assistance Program (7 CFR 
Part 1465)

    Through the AMA program, NRCS provides technical and financial 
assistance to participants in 16 States to address issues such as water 
management, water quality, and erosion control by incorporating 
conservation practices into their agricultural operations. Producers 
may construct or improve water management structures or irrigation 
structures; plant trees for windbreaks or to improve water quality; and 
mitigate risk through production diversification or resource 
conservation practices including soil erosion control, integrated pest 
management, or organic farming. The 2014 Act did not make any changes 
to AMA, but NRCS administers AMA conservation program contract 
requirements consistent with EQIP. Due to changes to the EQIP statute, 
minor changes are needed to the AMA program regulation to maintain this 
consistency. The AMA statute did not specify contract duration 
requirements. NRCS incorporated into the AMA regulation the EQIP 
contract duration requirements that a contract be in effect for at 
least one year after final conservation practice implementation. The 
2014 Act removed this minimal duration requirement from EQIP, thus NRCS 
is modifying the AMA regulation to similarly remove this requirement to 
keep the two programs administrative requirements consistent.

List of Subjects

7 CFR Part 610

    Soil conservation, State Technical Committee, Technical assistance, 
Water resources.

7 CFR Part 622

    Watershed projects, Watershed protection, Flood prevention.

7 CFR Part 625

    Administrative practice and procedure, Agriculture, Soil 
conservation.

7 CFR Part 652

    Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil conservation, 
Technical assistance.

7 CFR Part 662

    Administrative practice and procedure, Agriculture, Soil 
conservation.

7 CFR Part 1455

    Agriculture, Animals, Environmental protection, Fishing, Forests 
and forest products, Grant programs, Hunting, Indians, Indians-land, 
Natural resources, Recreation and recreation areas, Rural areas, State 
and local governments, Wildlife.

7 CFR Part 1465

    Conservation contract, Conservation plan, Conservation practices, 
Soil and water conservation.

    For the reasons stated in the preamble, and under the authority of 
16 U.S.C. 3841(d), the Natural Resources Conservation Service amend 
parts 610, 622, 625, 652, 662, and the Commodity Credit Corporation 
amends parts 1455 and 1465 of Title 7 of the Code of Federal 
Regulations (CFR) as follows:

CHAPTER VI--NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF 
AGRICULTURE

PART 610--TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE

0
1. The authority citation for part 610 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 590a-f, 590q, 2005b, 3861, 3862.


0
2. Section 610.24 is amended by revising paragraph (a) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  610.24  Responsibilities of State Technical Committees.

    (a) Each State Technical Committee established under this subpart 
will meet on a regular basis, as determined by the State 
Conservationist, to provide information, analysis, and recommendations 
to appropriate officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 
who are charged with implementing and establishing priorities and 
criteria for natural resources conservation activities and programs 
under Title XII of the Food Security Act of 1985 including, but not 
limited to, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, 
Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Security Program, 
Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives 
Program, Conservation Innovation Grants, Conservation of Private 
Grazing Land, Grassroots Source Water Protection Program, the Voluntary 
Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, and the Regional 
Conservation Partnership Program. The members of the State Technical 
Committee may also provide input on other natural resource conservation 
programs and issues as may be requested by NRCS or other USDA agency 
heads at the State level as long as they are within the programs 
authorized by Title XII. Such recommendations may include, but are not 
limited to, recommendations on:
    (1) The criteria to be used in prioritizing program applications;
    (2) The State-specific application criteria;
    (3) Priority natural resource concerns in the State;
    (4) Emerging natural resource concerns and program needs; and
    (5) Conservation practice standards and specifications.
* * * * *

PART 622--WATERSHED PROJECTS

0
3. The authority citation for part 622 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  Pub. L. 83-566, 68 Stat. 666 as amended (16 U.S.C. 
1001, et seq.); Pub. L. 78-534, 58 Stat. 889, 33 U.S.C. 701b-1.


0
4. Section 622.11 is amended by adding a new paragraph (b)(4) to read 
as follows:


Sec.  622.11  Eligible watershed projects.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (4) Are implemented pursuant to the Regional Conservation 
Partnership Program authorized by Subtitle I of Title XII of the Food 
Security Act of 1985 (Pub. L. 99-198).
* * * * *

PART 625--HEALTHY FORESTS RESERVE PROGRAM

0
5. The authority citation for part 625 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 6571-6578.


[[Page 44640]]



0
6. Section 625.1 is amended by adding a new paragraph (e) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  625.1  Purpose and scope.

* * * * *
    (e) Pursuant to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program 
(RCPP) authorized by Subtitle I of Title XII of the Food Security Act 
of 1985 (Pub. L. 99-198):
    (1) Eligible Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP) projects may be 
selected for funding under RCPP; and
    (2) The Chief may modify or waive a nonstatutory discretionary 
provision or operational procedure of this part if the Chief determines 
the waiver of such provision or procedure is necessary to further HFRP 
purposes.

0
7. Section 625.2 is amended by revising the definition of ``Acreage 
Owned by Indian Tribes'' to read as follows:


Sec.  625.2  Definitions.

* * * * *
    Acreage Owned by Indian Tribes means:
    (1) Land that is held in trust by the United States for Indian 
Tribes or individual Indians;
    (2) Land, the title to which is held by Indian Tribes or individual 
Indians subject to Federal restrictions against alienation or 
encumbrance;
    (3) Land that is subject to rights of use, occupancy, and benefit 
of certain Indian Tribes;
    (4) Land that is held in fee title by an Indian Tribe; or
    (5) Land that is owned by a native corporation formed under section 
17 of the Act of June 18, 1934, (commonly known as the `Indian 
Reorganization Act') (25 U.S.C. 477) or section 8 of the Alaska Native 
Claims Settlement Act (43 U.S.C. 1607); or
    (6) A combination of one or more types of land described in 
paragraphs (1) through (5) of this definition.
* * * * *

PART 652--TECHNICAL SERVICE PROVIDER ASSISTANCE

0
8. The authority citation for part 652 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 3842.


0
9. Section 652.4 is amended by revising paragraph (g) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  652.4  Technical service standards.

* * * * *
    (g) The TSP will report conservation accomplishments associated 
with the technical services provided to the Department and the 
participant.
* * * * *

0
10. Section 652.5 is amended by revising paragraph (l)(2)(ii) to read 
as follows:


Sec.  652.5  Participant acquisition of technical services.

* * * * *
    (l) * * *
    (2) * * *
    (ii) NRCS will establish TSP payment rates for the various 
categories of technical services. NRCS will determine the rates 
according to NRCS regional and local cost data, procurement data, and 
market data.
* * * * *

0
11. Section 652.32 is amended by revising the introductory text to read 
as follows:


Sec.  652.32  Causes for decertification.

    A State Conservationist, in whose State a technical service 
provider is certified to provide technical service, may submit a Notice 
of Proposed Decertification to the Deputy Chief for Programs 
recommending decertification of the technical service provider in 
accordance with these provisions if the technical service provider, or 
someone acting on behalf of the technical service provider:
* * * * *

0
12. Section 652.34 is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  652.34  Opportunity to contest decertification.

    To contest decertification, the technical service provider must 
submit in writing to the Deputy Chief for Programs, within 20 calendar 
days from the date of receipt of the Notice of Proposed 
Decertification, the reasons why the Deputy Chief for Programs should 
not decertify, including any mitigating factors as well as any 
supporting documentation.

0
13. Section 652.35 is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  652.35  Deputy Chief of Programs decision.

    Within 40 calendar days from the date of the notice of proposed 
decertification, the Deputy Chief for Programs will issue a written 
determination. If the Deputy Chief for Programs decides to decertify, 
the decision will set forth the reasons for decertification, the period 
of decertification, and the scope of decertification. If the Deputy 
Chief for Programs decides not to decertify the technical service 
provider, the technical service provider will be given written notice 
of that determination. The decertification determination will be based 
on an administrative record, which will be comprised of the Notice of 
Proposed Decertification and supporting documents, and if submitted, 
the technical service provider's written response and supporting 
documentation. Both a copy of the decision and administrative record 
will be sent promptly by certified mail, return receipt requested, to 
the technical service provider.

0
14. Section 652.36 is amended by revising paragraph (a) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  652.36  Appeal of decertification decisions.

    (a) Within 20 calendar days from the date of receipt of the Deputy 
Chief for Program's decertification determination, the technical 
service provider may appeal in writing to the NRCS Chief. The written 
appeal must state the reasons for appeal and any arguments in support 
of those reasons. If the technical service provider fails to appeal, 
the decision of the Deputy Chief for Programs is final.
* * * * *

0
15. Section 652.37 is amended by revising the introductory text to read 
as follows:


Sec.  652.37  Period of decertification.

    The period of decertification will not exceed 3 years in duration 
and will be decided by the decertifying official, either the Deputy 
Chief for Programs or the Chief of NRCS, as applicable, based on their 
weighing of all relevant facts and the seriousness of the reasons for 
decertification, mitigating factors, if any, and the following general 
guidelines:
* * * * *

0
16. Section 652.38 is amended by revising paragraph (b) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  652.38  Scope of decertification.

* * * * *
    (b) In cases where specific individuals are decertified only, an 
entity or public agency must file within 10 calendar days an amended 
Certification Agreement removing the decertified individual(s) from the 
Certification Agreement. In addition, the entity or public agency must 
demonstrate that, to the satisfaction of the Deputy Chief for Programs, 
the entity or public agency has taken affirmative steps to ensure that 
the circumstances resulting in decertification have been addressed.

PART 662--[REMOVED AND RESERVED]

0
17. Remove and reserve part 662.

[[Page 44641]]

CHAPTER XIV--COMMODITY CREDIT CORPORATION, DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

PART 1455--VOLUNTARY PUBLIC ACCESS AND HABITAT INCENTIVE PROGRAM

0
18. The authority citation for part 1455 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  15 U.S.C. 714b and 714c; 16 U.S.C. 3839.


0
19. In part 1455, remove the term ``RFA'' with the term ``APF'' 
wherever it appears.

0
20. Section 1455.1 is amended by revising paragraph (c) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  1455.1  Purpose and administration.

* * * * *
    (c) The regulations in this part are administered under the general 
supervision and direction of the Chief, Natural Resources Conservation 
Service (NRCS).

0
21. Section 1455.11 is amended by revising paragraphs (a) and 
(f)(5)(iii)(E), and adding paragraph (f)(5)(iii)(H) to read as follows:


Sec.  1455.11  Application procedure.

    (a) Announcement of Program Funding (APF). The CCC will issue 
periodic APFs for VPA-HIP on www.grants.gov subject to available 
funding. Unless otherwise specified in the applicable APF, applicants 
must file an original and one hard copy of the required forms and an 
application.
* * * * *
    (f) * * *
    (5) * * *
    (iii) * * *
    (E) A detailed description of how and to what extent public hunting 
and other recreational access will be increased on land enrolled under 
a USDA conservation program, or if conservation program land is not 
available, specify that there is no impact;
* * * * *
    (H) A description on how this will create a new program or enhance 
an existing program.
* * * * *

0
22. Section 1455.20 is amended by revising paragraphs (b) and (c)(5) to 
read as follows:


Sec.  1455.20  Criteria for grant selection.

* * * * *
    (b) After all applications have been evaluated using the evaluation 
criteria and scored in accordance with the point allocation specified 
in the announcement for program funding, a list of all applications in 
ranked order, together with funding level recommendations, will be 
submitted to the Chief or designee.
    (c) * * *
    (5) Strengthening wildlife habitat for lands under a USDA 
conservation program. The application will be evaluated to determine 
whether the project proposes to provide incentives to increase public 
hunting and other recreational access on land enrolled under a USDA 
conservation program.
* * * * *

0
23. Section 1455.30 is amended by revising paragraph (a) introductory 
text and paragraph (b), and adding a new paragraph (c) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  1455.30  Reporting requirements.

    (a) Grantees must provide the following to NRCS:
* * * * *
    (b) All reports submitted to NRCS will be held in confidence to the 
extent permitted by law.
    (c) Grantees must comply with applicable registration and reporting 
requirements of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act 
of 2006 (Pub. L. 109-282, as amended) and 2 CFR parts 25 and 170.

0
24. Section 1455.31 is amended by revising paragraphs (e), (f), (h), 
(i), and (j) to read as follows:


Sec.  1455.31  Miscellaneous.

* * * * *
    (e) Appeals. Appeals will be handled according to 7 CFR parts 11, 
614, and 780.
    (f) Environmental review. All grants made under this subpart are 
subject to the requirements of 7 CFR part 650. Applicants for grant 
funds must consider and document within their plans the important 
environmental factors within the planning area and the potential 
environmental impacts of the plan on the planning area, as well as the 
alternative planning strategies that were reviewed.
* * * * *
    (h) Other regulations. The grant program under this part is subject 
to the provisions of 2 CFR part 200, Uniform Administrative 
Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal 
Awards.
    (i) Audit. Grantees must comply with the audit requirements of 2 
CFR part 200. The audit requirements apply to the years in which grant 
funds are received and years in which work is accomplished using grant 
funds.
    (j) Change in scope or objectives. The Grantee must obtain prior 
approval from NRCS for any change to the scope or objectives of the 
approved project. Failure to obtain prior approval of changes to the 
scope of work or budget may result in suspension, termination, or 
recovery of grant funds.
* * * * *

PART 1465--AGRICULTURAL MANAGEMENT ASSISTANCE

0
25. The authority citation for part 1465 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  7 U.S.C. 1524(b).


0
26. Section 1465.21 is amended by revising paragraph (b)(2) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  1465.21  Contract requirements.

* * * * *
    (b) An AMA contract will:
    (2) Be for a duration of not more than 10 years;
* * * * *

    Signed this 24th day of July, 2014 in Washington, DC
Jason A. Weller,
Vice President, Commodity Credit Corporation and Chief, Natural 
Resources Conservation Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-17993 Filed 7-31-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3410-16-P