Resources for Participating in Agency Rulemaking
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There are many opportunities for the public to participate in federal decision-making, especially when agencies are preparing to issue new rules. We’ve compiled a list of resources to help you make your voice heard at each stage of that process.
Overview of the Rulemaking Process
When Congress passes a law, it often delegates rulemaking authority to the President or a specific agency in order to achieve a specific goal, such as improving national air quality or setting nationwide energy efficiency standards. When issuing rules (also called regulations), agencies must follow guidelines in another law– the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)–including providing the public with adequate public notice and an opportunity to comment on proposed rules. These requirements create many opportunities for the public to inform agency decision-making before a rule is proposed, after a rule is proposed, and even after a rule is finalized. These opportunities are outlined below.
Sometimes the best time to influence agency decision-making is before the agency announces a new rulemaking. Agencies will often hold open meetings, listening sessions, or public roundtables with stakeholders in order to receive input on a particular issue or project. For example, in March, 2021, the Department of the Interior held a virtual public forum on the federal oil and gas program, with the option for people to submit additional information via email (see a video of the forum here). Agencies may also issue a Request for Information (RFI) where they seek public input on a particular topic. For example, in May, 2021, EPA opened a non-rulemaking docket seeking public input on how to best reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, with a focus on “individuals and communities that experience disproportionate adverse health and environmental impacts.” Finally, agencies can announce that they are in the process of reviewing existing standards and start a supplemental rulemaking process, as EPA announced on July 26, 2021 with the Stream Electric Rule. These processes sometimes provide opportunities for public engagement as staff gather information to prepare a rule proposal, but they also provide notice to interested stakeholders that a rulemaking is coming. This can give people extra time to prepare comments on topics they care about.
Agencies may also publish an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) in the Federal Register, in which the agency invites the public to submit comments on a set list of questions in anticipation of issuing a proposed rule (described below). While ANRPMs don’t include draft rule language, they can provide helpful insight into what will likely show up in the proposed rule.
We include some of these opportunities on each agency page in the EJ Tracker under “Public Participation.” You can also often find these and other opportunities as news releases or events on each agency’s website.
New agency rules typically start with an announcement in the Federal Register, called a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM). Agencies are not required to issue an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) unless otherwise required by law or the agency’s own rules.
After agencies publish a NPRM, anyone can submit a written comment to the agency for review before the listed deadline at regulations.gov. (Watch this short video to learn how to navigate the updated regulations.gov site). Comment periods typically last at least 30 days from the date the notice is published. We list EJ-related ANPRMs, and NRPMs under “Public Participation” on each agency page of our Federal EJ Tracker. Scroll down for resources on how to write and submit public comments.
In addition to submitting written public comments, agencies often will host hearings to allow the public to submit comments orally. Information on these hearings will be included in ANPRM/NPRM, or as a separate announcement. For example, in April, 2021, EPA held a series of Virtual Engagements to seek both oral and written public input on the Trump administration’s revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, these meetings were typically held in communities that will be affected by the rulemaking. Now, many agencies hold these meetings virtually.
Before proposed and final rules are published, they are reviewed by staff at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which is part of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OIRA is responsible for reviewing “significant” rules, that is rules that have a substantial economic effect or raise important policy concerns. When reviewing a rule, OIRA staff will conduct a benefit-cost analysis and consider viable alternatives, among other factors. Under Executive Order 12866, members of the public can schedule a meeting with OIRA staff to offer additional comments on a rule currently under review. Scroll down to learn how to schedule a meeting with OIRA on a proposed rule.
For more resources on the rulemaking process see:
- A Guide to the Rulemaking Process from the Office of the Federal Register
- Public Citizen’s Regulation 101: How a Law Becomes a Regulation and Flowchart
- EELP’s Guide on Undoing the Trump-era Regulatory Rollbacks
Submit a Public Comment on Proposed Rules
Anyone can submit a written public comment on a proposed rule. Comments can help ensure agencies take community concerns into account, and even change the content of the final rule. However, agencies may receive hundreds or even thousands of comments on a single ANPRM or NPRM. The following resources can help you craft a clear, effective comment to get your message across.
- ELI’s Step-by-Step Tips for Writing Effective Public Comments
- The Public Comment Project’s Tips for Writing Effective Public Comments with Templates and Examples
Schedule a Meeting with OIRA for Rules under Review
As discussed above, members of the public can schedule 30-minute meetings with staff at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to submit additional comments on proposed rules under review. These meetings are called “12866 Meetings” because they are required under Executive Order 12866. The order also requires OIRA to disclose the meeting subject, date, participants, and materials shared during that meeting on its website.
You can check which rules are currently being reviewed on OIRA’s Dashboard, and what stage (proposed or final) those rules are in. We list EJ-related proposed rules under OIRA review under the “Public Participation” tab on each agency page of our Federal EJ Tracker. To see a list of scheduled meetings, or schedule a meeting yourself, visit OIRA’s website here.