Understanding the Problem
EPA begins its effort to protect public health and the environment by understanding the problem it is trying to fix. EPA collects data on what pollution exists, often by placing air or water quality monitors in communities or seeking emissions testing from factories. The agency researches how that pollution affects humans and the environment, including conducting laboratory work on health effects, reviewing the scientific literature, and getting expert advice from leading scientists. Agency staff then analyze all of the information to form a complete understanding of the challenge.
identifying potential solutions
Second, EPA seeks to understand what solutions exist for the problem. This includes studying technologies to reduce or counteract pollution and meeting with a broad group of stakeholders, including the public, regulated companies, and environmental organizations. The agency considers the full range of options to address the problem, while also weighing potential consequences, such as the effect on jobs or on other types of pollution.
Designing a Solution
Third, EPA designs a program that will address the problem as completely as possible while causing as little disruption as necessary. This process starts with careful consideration of what the law authorizes EPA to do. For example, the Clean Air Act treats factories and cars very differently. EPA analyzes different regulatory schemes and seeks public input about how well those regulatory structures would address the pollution problem and what effects they would have on other pollution or the economy. After receiving as much input as possible and analyzing the feasible options, EPA will select a regulatory scheme that protects public health and provides instructions for polluting sources.
Fourth, EPA has to make sure that polluters comply with the regulations and actually achieve the emissions reductions required. This means continuing to collect information, and when necessary, taking steps to correct deficiencies – up to and including bringing enforcement actions.
The Public’s Role
Tying all of this together is the public’s right to learn what actions EPA is proposing, to comment on the proposal, and to see EPA’s full response to the questions, concerns and suggestions made in those comments. EPA must fully lay out the data, analysis and arguments needed to justify the final rule the EPA issues.
If EPA fails to undertake or complete these steps in a timely way when laws like the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act mandate that it take action, the public can hold the agency accountable by taking the agency to court. Almost invariably, a judge will order EPA to meet a schedule for acting, unless the agency and the litigants agree on a schedule themselves through a settlement.
This post was edited for clarity on Jan. 23, 2020.
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