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Reviewing EPA Regulations

October 20, 2016
Executive Order 13563 requires that all federal agencies develop plans for reviewing existing regulations to determine whether any should be modified, streamlined, expanded, or repealed. The Order calls not for a single exercise, but for the “periodic review of existing significant regulations”. [1]

By Ayla Fudala, C’16

Times and technologies are changing, and regulations which were once considered efficient must be adjusted to meet new standards. Regulatory review is an opportunity to bring regulations up to date, to cut regulatory costs, implement new technologies, and reduce administrative burdens.

Retrospective review is a foundational part of the EPA’s process. In fact, about sixty percent of the rulemakings on regulatory agenda are in the nature of retrospective review. To fulfill Executive Order 13565, EPA completed its Final Plan for Periodic Retrospective Reviews of Existing Regulations in 2011. This plan identified 35 priority reforms for the initial regulatory review period, 22 of which have been completed. Two of these important actions include the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) amendments and Onboard Vapor Recovery rule. These two actions are estimated to save regulated parties $250 million per year. And this is only one of many cost-saving regulation reforms.

Eliminating Redundant Regulations

When American drivers refuel their cars, vapors from the gas pump have the potential to release harmful emissions into the air. In the past, EPA has required gas stations to incorporate vapor controls on their pumps. Today’s generation of vehicles, however, already contains the technology for vapor recovery internally, making the requirement for gas pumps redundant. During Summer 2011, the EPA proposed to eliminate this mandate on gas station owners, providing cost savings that will add up to about $67 million every year.

Ensuring Consumer Confidence

In 2013, the EPA simplified the process for community water systems to deliver Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR). These reports provide customers with important information about the quality of their drinking water. Previously, the CCRs had to be mailed to customers of drinking water systems. New options were approved for delivering the reports electronically, a move that is estimated to save community drinking water systems approximately $1 million per year.

Currently the EPA’s Office of Regulatory Policy Management (where I am an intern) and the Regulatory Steering Committee are collaborating on an internal survey. The survey targets EPA employees, asking them for any suggestions regarding ways to improve environmental regulations. A survey asking the same questions of the public was also recently released. EPA is attempting to make its regulatory review process as open and innovative as possible by encouraging both private and public involvement. This gives stakeholders a chance to express their concerns and take an active role in regulatory changes.

However the regulatory review process doesn’t start after the rule is published. In fact, it begins much earlier, before the rule is formally proposed. The Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), as amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), requires EPA to convene a Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) Panel for most proposed rules unless the agency can certify that a rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The Panel process offers an opportunity for small businesses, small governments, and small organizations (collectively referred to as small entities) to provide advice and recommendations to ensure that EPA carefully considers small entity concerns. Each SBAR Panel is led by the EPA’s Small Business Advocacy Chair and is comprised of federal employees from the EPA, Small Business Administration (SBA), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Small Entity Representatives or SERs (typically the owners of small businesses, small organization officials, or small government officials) participate in the one or two meetings and are given an opportunity to submit their comments.

The majority of my time at the Office of Regulatory Police Management has been spent reviewing the comments of Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) Panels on past regulations. After compiling a list of the Panel’s suggestions, I search through the Proposed Rule to see how many of these suggestions were discussed. Then I search through the Final Rule to see how many Panel suggestions were implemented. Each regulation varies, but so far I have found that the majority of suggestions are considered in the proposed rule, and many are implemented in the final rule. For instance: of the 12 Panel suggestions made for the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Long Term 1 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule, 6 were considered and implemented, 4 were considered but not implemented, and only 2 were not considered at all.

With every new regulation, a delicate balance must be struck between environmental threats and economic costs. In the EPA-related hearings I have attended, one accusation was repeated over and over: the EPA doesn’t listen to the people’s needs, it’s not doing what the people want. This is why information on how many small business owners’ suggestions can be parts of final rules is important. The public needs to know that their opinions are carefully considered and that the EPA is doing its best to protect their interests.

Through both internal review and public outreach, the EPA is ceaselessly striving to improve its regulations. I am proud to be able to take part in this effort.

 

References

  [1] Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review. Federal Register. January 21, 2011. https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/01/21/2011-1385/improving-regulation-and-regulatory-review

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