April 9, 20190

Land use planning refers to the practice whereby land owners, developers, municipalities, environmental attorneys, and other professionals collectively work to approve a land-based project in accordance with principles and engineering that promotes an appropriate social and environmental effect, while also employing resources efficiently. The benefits of land use planning are myriad: environmental protection, avoidance of urban sprawl, departure from impacts of transportation, promotion of compatible uses, and public health and safety considerations.

There are several agencies and departments, at both the state and federal level, which assist with the benefits of land use planning. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) and the Rhode Island Small Business Administration (“SBA”) provide resources, grant money, and guidance documents that can assist with business and individuals realize the benefits of land use planning.

Currently, the USDA is offering “Distributed Generation Energy Project Financing,” to rural projects, which provides “loans and loan guarantees to energy project developers for distributed energy projects including renewables that provide wholesale or retail electricity to existing Electric Program borrowers or to rural communities served by other utilities.” Learn more about the Distributed Generation Energy Project Financing.

According to the USDA, these projects, including generation from renewable resources, “are providing more power supply options for rural communities.  There is growing interest among electric cooperatives to enter into power purchase agreements (PPAs) with project developers or to interconnect distributed generation projects directly into their systems.” Find out more about what type of projects qualify for financing.

In Rhode Island, the USDA offers guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to purchase or install renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements. If you are an agricultural producer with at least 50% of gross income coming from agricultural operations, or a small business in an eligible rural area, you can apply for this funding. Learn more about this program, how to apply and how the funds can be used for your business. In terms of realizing the benefits of land use planning, the financing program can be used for purchasing, installing, and construction of renewable energy systems. The idea is that the funds will assist the applicant to create access to alternative energy sources.

During the financing approval process, the benefits of land use planning become clear. The construction timeline needs to coordinate with the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) review process.  No construction is permitted before the project is cleared via the NEPA process. NEPA is an incredibly important environmental regulatory regime that can make or break a project’s financing from the federal government.

To comply with NEPA, an applicant’s proposal must, whenever practicable, avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts; avoid or minimize conversion of wetlands or important farmlands when practicable alternatives exist to meet development needs; avoid unwarranted alterations or encroachment on floodplains when practicable alternatives exist to meet developmental needs; and avoid or minimize potentially disproportionate and adverse impacts to minority or low-income populations within the proposed action’s area of impact.  During the NEPA review process, the federal government makes a determination about these benefits of land use planning in terms of the project’s impacts on the environment.

The USDA’s observation of the benefits of land use planning  under NEPA is to encourage “the reuse of real property defined as brownfields per Section 101 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) where the reuse of such property is complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or other contaminant, provided that the level of such presence does not threaten human health and the environment for the proposed land use.” Watch the webinar video for more information about the review of the USDA Rural Development DRAFT Nationwide Programmatic Agreement for Sequencing.

Further, the federal government will customarily defer to the state agency with statutory authority and expertise in determining the appropriate level of contaminant for a specific proposed land use.  The federal agency must evaluate the risk based upon the applicable regulatory agency’s review and concurrence with the proposal. This is where having an attorney who understands the benefits of land use planning is paramount – you need an attorney that has experience with both state and federal regulations.

The attorneys at Desautel Browning Law have the experience and confidence you need to assist you or your company with the benefits of land use planning.

To learn more about Desautel Browning Law and how their environmental law services can represent you in obtaining the benefits of land use planning, call us at 401.477.0023 today.

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