MIL-OSI USA: Duckworth & Carper Lead EPW Democrats in Requesting Extension of EPA Public Comment Periods Due to Shutdown

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Source: United States Senator for Illinois Tammy Duckworth

February 01, 2019

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE), and 8 other EPW Democrats today urged U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to reopen public comment periods for all pending regulatory decisions, extend those that are currently open and reschedule all public hearings that were cancelled due to the shutdown. For parts of the 35-day government shutdown, many of the federal websites that collect public comments were unavailable or inaccessible, preventing the American public from receiving the normal amount of time to review and comment on new regulations.

Regulations.gov had identified dozens of rules with comment periods, which were active or closed during the shutdown, including high profile rules such as EPA’s proposed amendment to the wood heater rule,” the Senators wrote. “Now that EPA has reopened and employees are resuming their efforts to process regulations, we urge you to reopen all closed rules, reschedule all public hearings and extend all public comment periods so that everyday Americans are able to continue participating in our democratic processes. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.”

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders, (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

The full text of the letter is available below and a copy is available here.

Dear Acting Administrator Wheeler:

We are writing to request that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reopen public comment periods for proposed regulations that closed during the shutdown, extend the comment period for all regulations that were open during the shutdown and reschedule all public hearings that were canceled as a result of the shutdown. Specifically, we request EPA extend these comment periods by no less than 35 days.

As you know, the majority of EPA’s workforce was furloughed on December 29, 2018, limiting the services the Agency was capable of providing. During the government shutdown, Regulations.gov posted a message that the website was functionally unreliable and on January 17, 2019 the website was unavailable for 24 hours with a message stating that Regulations.gov was “not operational due to a lapse in funding, and will remain unavailable for the duration of the government shutdown.” 

Further, the Federal Register’s website, the Nation’s clearinghouse of all Federal actions, maintained a banner during the shutdown stating the website was operating in a limited capacity. One of those limitations included public comments not being posted to the website.  This prevented the normal practice of allowing the public to see or comment on other public comments.  As is clear, the shutdown of the Federal Government impaired the public’s access to the regulatory process causing tangible, serious and harmful effects. 

According to past precedent and EPA’s own public health mission, a government shutdown cannot be allowed to obstruct public participation in our regulatory process. In 2013, the 16-day Federal Government shutdown similarly impacted EPA’s ability to process its regulations. In an uncoordinated effort, agencies across the Federal Government, including EPA, extended and reopened comment periods and rescheduled public hearings. For instance, EPA rescheduled public meetings and reopened public comments for toxic chemical reviews of Antimony Trioxide and dichloromethane and N-Methylpyrrolidone.

As of January 25, 2019, Regulations.gov had identified dozens of rules with comment periods, which were active or closed during the shutdown, including high profile rules such as EPA’s proposed amendment to the wood heater rule. Now that EPA has reopened and employees are resuming their efforts to process regulations, we urge you to reopen all closed rules, reschedule all public hearings and extend all public comment periods so that everyday Americans are able to continue participating in our democratic processes. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

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