How to Leave Public Comments on Federal Regulations (It’s Important!)

7 mins read

Explanation

  1. All federal agencies must follow the laws and facts relevant to the regulation, and it must consider and respond to all the Public Comments it receives on a proposal to create, change or repeal a regulation before it makes its final decision. 
  2. The “administrative record” that is created in the comment period may be used by a court to overturn an agency’s decision to roll back a rule. 
  3. Submitting comments is easy to do. Once you find your way to the web address for an agency rulemaking submitting comments can be just a few clicks away. Or many agencies accept by mail. 

Search and Track the Federal Register

The Federal Register is a daily publication of proposed and final rules (administrative laws) adopted by federal executive departments and agencies. These rules are put forth to guide these departments and agencies on how to follow the statutes (laws) passed by the United States Congress.

Justia tracking: https://regulations.justia.com/

The How-to When Commenting:

Find Your Rule Online

Once you have identified the proposed rule you would like to comment on, you will need to locate the rule on Regulations.gov, a website run by the federal government, designed to allow the public to find proposed and final regulations and to comment on them.

On Regulations.gov, you can search for rules, comments, and documents by entering keywords, browse rules and agency actions by topic, and view rules grouped by comment period.

After your initial query, you can refine your search by using the options on the left side of the screen. Regulations.gov provides links to narrow search results by agency, document type, and other options.

Keep in mind, a search on Regulations.gov will return specific documents. For example, if you search for “air pollution” the list of results could include a proposed rule on a specific air pollution standard, a scientific study related to that rule, and all the public comments on the rule.

A collection of documents related to one specific rulemaking is called a docket. Finding the link for the docket can be more valuable if you are attempting to track a rule or comment on a rule. The docket shows all of the documents related to a specific rule, including the rule itself, and provides the link to comment. Regulations.gov does not provide a way to search for dockets, but each search result includes a link to the docket that document belongs to.

Commenting Tips:

  1. Explain why you’re commenting – Say why you care about the regulation under attack. If you or someone you know is affected by the activity being regulated (for example, you or your child has asthma and are harmed by the pollution being released), explain that. Include any personal anecdotes that you’re willing to share. Telling the agency that you have a personal stake in the rule helps bring home the need for the rule and raises the political stakes of rolling it back. Your account of how the regulated activity affects you may also help provide a legal basis for a lawsuit challenging an agency decision to delay, repeal or weaken the rule. 
  2. If you have expertise, say so – You don’t have to be an expert to make a valid and valuable comment, but if you have expertise relevant to the regulation (for example, in health or child care, social work, safety, sanitation, teaching, banking, construction, law, or economics) or professional experience (for example, you are a farmer and the regulation will affect your farm), let the agency know that. A comment that draws on your expertise will have that much more credibility. [*And also tell every science teacher you know about these ways to comment.]
  3. Be civil – How you present yourself and phrase your comments matters. Rude, discourteous comments and behavior reflect negatively on the commenter and his or her cause. 
  4. Meet deadlines for written comments, make sure you submit them before the deadline listed in the rulemaking notice. Comment periods close at 11:59 EST on the date comments are due – don’t cut it close. If your comments are late, the agency may choose to consider them but is not obliged to do so.

Note: You have the option of posting “Anonymously” – your comment will still be public and searchable on http://regulations.gov , but won’t have your name attached. Enter “Anonymous” in the name boxes.

ALSO, you will be able to add political heft to your comments by asking your Members of Congress to comment and/or make a public statement along the same lines as your comments. Agencies pay close attention to what members of Congress say, particularly when the member holds positions on committees or in leadership that give them more clout with the agency. 

SO, each time you do a public comment, drop your MoC a Postcard or message asking them to do so, too. 

Here are their addresses: 
Reps: https://pc2a.info/AddressesMembersHouseOfReps
Senators: https://pc2a.info/AllContactsforAllSenatorsIncludingSocialMedia

Further Info:

Tips for submitting effective comments:
http://www.cogr.edu/sites/default/files/Tips_For_Submitting_Effective_Comments.pdf

Public Comment – How it Works:
https://publiccommentproject.org/how-it-works

Federal Register:
https://www.federalregister.gov/reader-aids/using-federalregister-gov/the-public-commenting-process
https://www.federalregister.gov/reader-aids/recent-updates/2014/07/new-submit-a-formal-comment-feature

Center for Effective Government; Tracking Rules: https://www.foreffectivegov.org/node/3454
http://www.tenthousandcommandments.com

Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs:
https://www.reginfo.gov/public/
https://ballotpedia.org/Changes_to_the_Federal_Register

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Postcards for America gives you PC2As (Postcarders Calls to Action) on key bills, topics and issues so you have all the info you need to write your Reps about your concerns.
Addresses, background information and even Suggested Wording provided.

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