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Playing By The Rules

2008 September 26

About the author: Karen Reshkin manages the Web site in EPA’s Chicago office. She’s been there since 1991, and can still remember life before the Internet.

A few weeks ago, I declared that I’d try to diminish my ignorance about some of the things EPA does. Turns out it’s hard to write about things you don’t know! I hope you’ll bear with me if some of this seems a bit elementary. I want to understand better how enforcement works at EPA, so I’ll start with laws and regulations.

EPA is charged with implementing federal environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Statutes like these are passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. They may get amended, as happened with the Clean Water Act in 1972, 1977, 1981…

Those laws look quite, um, legal to me. Why would you need regulations on top of that? Turns out the statutes usually don’t contain the details you’d need to actually enforce them (e.g. allowable concentrations of particular substances in water). EPA is a regulatory agency, which means Congress has authorized it to write regulations that explain how to implement a statute. There’s a whole process for doing that, and it generally includes an opportunity for the public to comment on a proposed rule (regulation).

The Web provides an excellent way for people to get involved in rulemaking. You can view the proposed rule online and provide comments online as well. (More traditional methods like paper mail still work, too.) The collection of documents related to a rulemaking is called a docket and it includes public comments, background reports, Federal Register notices, and other supporting documents. Dockets are accessible to the public and serves as EPA’s electronic public docket and online comment system.

This didn’t really bring us to enforcement yet, but I’m getting there.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. Zach permalink
    September 27, 2008

    Who makes the rules regarding different grades of gasoline that can be used in certain cities (specifically Atlanta), and how can I get a hold of them? You worry about the environment, but what does it help when I have to spend an hour on a Saturday driving through the suburbs looking for gasoline carrying gas? Because of the smog in Atlanta, only certain grades of gasoline that pass your standards are allowed during the Summer/early Fall. Hurricane Ike has limited the availability of gasoline meeting these requirements. Not only am I wasting fuel as I look for fuel, but my ability to contribute to the struggling economy has diminished for this weekend. I was forced to stay at home and eat up air conditioning. Furthermore, I may be unable to go to work on Monday, Tuesday, and so on. As an engineer for an underground mining company, environmental issues on the job site compose a large part of my duties. Without me there, more oil/hydraulic fluids will be improperly cared for, an abundance of the turbulent and acidic water we encounter will be improperly discharged into the environment, and problems with erosion control will go unnoticed. I am sure there are others in a similar position here in Atlanta. When will you all come to your senses and allow for certain exceptions in situations such as this? This is ridiculous and Atlanta is in a panic thanks in large part to the wonderful EPA. I don’t know if I should leave my house or not? I have a quarter of a tank left and I can’t afford to go searching for gas. Unfortunately, in order to find gas, one must do some searching. Perhaps I can get a horse on ebay.

  2. Dana Brown permalink
    September 30, 2008

    “There’s a whole process for doing that, and it generally includes an opportunity for the public to comment on a proposed rule (regulation).”

    NO it **always requires** Public Comment periods. Lok at EPA’s own website and the “Administratie Acts” that govern the process of rulemaking. This was one of the embarassemets on the Libby Public Health Emergency designation. No public input, and some “creatively” interperted regulations wether the “Zonolite Insluation” was “product or not. The EPA HQ required Region 8 to determine the insulation to not be a “product”, so as to circumvent the SUPERFUND requirement of having a “Public Health Emergency”. Additionally EPA did not perform a “Risk Assessment as per the SUPERFUND regulation at Libby either. The EPA Region 8 LIbby team lobbied for it, but it was denied and is 5 years overdue. Libby was betrayed again by EPA HQ. Why did EPA do this? Because a Public Health Emergency designation will have to deal with the health effects of all the 15-52 million homes that have Zonolite Attic Insulation in them, and removing that material.

    This happened again with the NESHAP inclusion of the “Alternative Asbestos Control Method” (AACM) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on December 10, 2007; 9 days before the AACM “research” on Phase III was even started. The Rulemaking process had already been “notified” in the Federal Register. However when it was “caught” EPA Region 6 and others involved at EPA all said that the notice in the Federal Register was just a “place holder cue” for potential proposed regulatory changes. BIG MISTAKE, as that is not legal, notices in the Federal Register are not supposed to be in there unless action was being taken.

    Asbestos continues to be a problem, and EPA embarasses itself every time they ignore or minimize the impact. Asbestos is the barometer or litmus test for determining whether EPA is actually enforcing regulations. Currently the Regions are not all on the same page, and are not enforcing the asbestos NESAHP “uniformly” as required by the CAA.

    You are right, the rules DO MATTER.

    Thank you for a very relevant post. This was something of a refreshing post on this blog.

  3. Dana Brown permalink
    September 30, 2008

    Additionally check out the “Asbestosbeach” site. Just google “Asbestosbeach”. You will see what happens in when laws are ignored. OR the St. Louis Airport Federal District Court Decision using “Wet demolition” method. 99 counts of violating the NESAHP and EPA Region 7 assisting on that.

    Yes, let’s DO play by the rules.

  4. arch permalink
    December 11, 2008

    While we are playing by the RULES , what is the government doing about the eco terror groups that are destroying companies property, they are not playing by the rules, so the next time they attempt to ram a ship or burn a car dealership maybe VIOLENCE should be used against them. the ricoh law can be used against them to bankrupt them, its only a matter of time, come on GOVERNMENT, step up and enforce the LAW.

  5. Alexander Rabassa permalink
    March 2, 2009

    Hello Karen. I am a graduate student at the University of Miami’s School of Epidemiology & Public Health. I read in your article that “EPA is a regulatory agency, which means Congress has authorized it to write regulations that explain how to implement a statute.” I am currently researching the hazardous risks of formaldehyde; specifically on the construction of the FEMA trailers used for short-term housing for the Hurricane Katrina displaced residents. I am curious to learn more about the exposure limits for formaldehyde set by EPA as well as to learn if the EPA has provided any safety regulatory measures in relation to construction of mobile trailers. In additional, has EPA provided any efforts to study formaldehyde-free construction material alternatives that could eventually supplant plywood/particleboard in the construction of trailers? Thank you for your time.

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