Friday, September 05, 2014

Regulatory Activism

The public is commenting on proposed federal rules in record numbers, according to a story entitled "Federal Agencies Are Flooded by Comments on New Rules," published in the Wall Street Journal, September 3, 2014.  For instance, the State Department has received over 2.5 million comments on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.  The Federal Communications Commission has received over 1.26 million comments on net neutrality.  And the Environmental Protection Agency is processing "hundreds of thousands of comments on new emissions rules for power plants."  The comments come from several sources, including "groups with a stake in the outcome, organizations that rally similar-minded people to their cause and individuals who simply want to weigh in."  And the comments take different forms, including "legal-brief type treatises from affected businesses and interested groups, form-submitted comments written and sometimes bundled by interest groups, and letters from interested Americans, ranging from thoughtful to flippant." 

What accounts for the surge in comments?  With Congress unwilling or unable to act, the Obama Administration has used "executive actions to achieve its policy objectives," and the public has responded by waking "up to the potential of agency rule-making."  This is the opinion of Nuala O'Connor, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology.  An additional factor is undoubtedly the federal websites, such as, that encourage public involvement in rulemaking by facilitating the submission of comments. The volume of public comments over the last twelve months has "in some cases ... given [agencies] pause as they write final rules." 

The article explores how advocacy groups spur action by using social media and email to get the word out about proposed regulations.  The groups also generate form letters that individuals can send to the agency responsible for the regulation.  How do the agencies manage the high volume of comments they are receiving?  Agencies must respond for the official record.  One coping strategy is to group similar comments together and generate a common response.  However, a more thoughtful comment will usually receive an individualized response.  The agencies are currently managing the workload, but "experts question their ability to effectively handle that much public input." 

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

With my best Spock impression, I say, "Fascinating." Awesome post, Marie!