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HUD Issues Guidance on Environmental Reviews for Coronavirus-Related Activities

HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development (CPD) issued Notice CPD-20-07 on August 6, providing guidance on conducting environmental reviews for activities addressing the coronavirus pandemic. An activity or project categorized in the regulations as “Exempt” at 24 CFR 58.34 or “CENST” at 24 CFR 58.35(b) is not required to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or related environmental laws and authorities listed at 24 CFR 58.5.

Examples of Exempt/CENST activities that prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus public health emergency include: tenant-based rental assistance; short-term payments for rent; purchase and distribution of equipment for telehealth, testing, diagnosis, sanitation, personal protective equipment, infection control measures, and other healthcare-related equipment; services such as job training to expand the pool of health care workers/technicians and expand in-home services, delivery of meals, medicine, and supplies; and economic development activities such as operating subsidies, inventory financing, payroll assistance, and other activities that are not associated with physical actions. The “Table of Activities” in an appendix provides additional examples.

Section 58.34(a)(10) of the regulations provides an exemption for activities necessary to respond to a federal or state declared imminent threat to public safety. This section of the notice provides guidance for Responsible Entities (REs) on documenting activity that meets the exemption. An RE does not have to comply with the requirements of Section 58.34 or undertake environmental review, consultation, or other action under NEPA and the other provisions of law cited in § 58.5 for activities exempt by Section 58.34 or projects that: only provide assistance for temporary or permanent improvements; do not alter environmental conditions; and are limited to protection, repair, or restoration activities necessary only to control or arrest the effects from disasters or imminent threats to public safety, including those resulting from physical deterioration.

To document that an activity meets this exemption, the Environmental Review Record (ERR) must document compliance with 24 CFR 58.6 and show that the action meets a number of conditions, including activities that do not alter environmental conditions because they do not:

  • Replace, reconstruct, or substantially improve structures within a floodplain as determined by a current, preliminary, or pending Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) that would require elevation or other changes
  • Involve occupancy of a project site that is impacted by contamination or hazardous substances
  • Involve new construction in a wetland

In addition, the activities must be limited to temporary or permanent improvements necessary to control or stop the imminent threat to public safety. Projects necessary to control and stop the rate of infection and treat patients with COVID-19 include improvements that: expand the capacity of healthcare facilities; use vacant or under-utilized property with only minimal ground disturbance, or renovate facilities to use as temporary hospitals, healthcare facilities, clinics, quarantine, mortuary facilities, or homeless shelters; allow the use of hotels/motels to provide quarantine and treatment facilities, shelter, and alleviate overcrowding to prevent the spread of infection; expand the production and distribution of prepared food, groceries, equipment, and supplies; and provide mobile sanitation facilities.

Notice CPD-20-07 is at: https://bit.ly/3gXbtge