Every day in offices all over the nation’s capital, government workers are hard at work on one of the main products of the federal government: regulations. While it may be Congress that makes the laws, it’s up to the government’s myriad federal agencies to put these laws into action through regulation.
Often these regulations are highly contentious and heavily lobbied, as with the implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. But with few reporters assigned to follow agencies, many of these policy debates do not get attention in the mainstream media. The Sunlight Foundation’s Docket Wrench and Scout tools can help those reporters — and other members of the public — track the lobbying that goes on after a bill is passed.
To help get you started, we’re be starting a regular feature where we report regulatory highlights based on information gleaned from these tools.
Bluefin tuna: A proposal to protect bluefin tuna drew more than 1,000 comments last week, most of them from activists urging the agency to strengthen its proposal. With the rising demand for bluefin tuna for sushi, bluefin tuna stocks have been diminishing rapidly. Environmentalists say that nearly a quarter of the yearly catch is thrown overboard as waste when fishing vessels use longlines to catch the fish. They want to see the regulations further strengthened. Analysis based on Sunlight’s Docket Wrench tool shows that since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) proposed new rules, some 700 comments have rolled in from recreational anglers responding to an action alert by Keep America Fishing, an outgrowth of the American Sportfishing Association. Nearly 50 were inspired by this alert sent by Pew Charitable Trusts. Comment period for the proposed regulation closed on January 10.
Machine guns: Nearly 800 comments last week were posted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to consider on its proposal meant to close a gun law loophole that allows some people to avoid background checks when purchasing machine guns and silencers. The proposed regulation has prompted a battle among gun enthusiasts, some of whom accused a firearms group, the National Firearms Act Trade and Collectors Association (NFATCA), for supporting the agency’s attempt to close down the practice where people can avoid background checks by putting guns into legal trusts. NFATCA felt double crossed by the agency and is opposing the rule. Meanwhile, gun control groups have largely stayed out of the fray.
Greenhouse gases: The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce green house gas emissions at power plants drew more than 500 comments last week. Overall, the proposal has garnered more than 1,200 comments. A large cluster—more than 260—mirror language that former Vice President Al Gore wrote in his blog last September: “We have seen the disturbing consequences that the climate crisis has to offer — from a drought that covered 60% of our nation to Superstorm Sandy which wreaked havoc and cost the taxpayers billions, from wildfires spreading across large areas of the American West to severe flooding in cities all across our country — we have seen what happens when we fail to act. On January 8, the EPA released a new version of the proposal, with comments due in March. Meanwhile, the issue of EPA’s authority to regulate in this area remains contentious in the courts. The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a related case The state of Nebraska just announced it would sue the EPA, arguing the agency is overstepping its authority.
Other regulations garnering much comment: renewable fuel standards; a petition to prohibit public’s interaction with wild animals; genetically modified apples produced by Okanagan Speciality Fruits, Medicare physician fee schedules; and a request by Arizona, Kansas, and Georgia to allow them to change voter instructions to require proof of citizenship.
More time to comment
A search on Scout reveals that the feds are extending the comment period for people to weigh in on numerous regulations. Among them:
- An industry funded program to promote hardwood lumber and plywood — new date: February 18;
- A Commodity Futures Trading Commission proposal relating to regulation of position limits — new date: February 10;
- A Food and Drug Administration plan to regulate transfats in foods — new date: March 8.