A collection of industry and environmental organizations are urging federal and California agencies to extend or suspend public comment deadlines on a variety of complex environmental regulations.
More than 100 environmental groups and the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) in late March called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to extend public comment deadlines on pending regulations, arguing that it is inappropriate for an agency to rush through a rulemaking and give the public only 30 days to weigh in on complex environmental proposals.
The groups assert that the state should temporarily halt the regulations that can be picked up easily after the country has successfully overcome the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of Cal/EPA, urged the EPA on March 19 to consider further extensions of the rulemaking process.
“The State of California has been a leader in attempting to proactively contain the coronavirus,” Blumenfeld said. “Governor [Gavin] Newsom declared a State of Emergency on March 4, 2020. Many local jurisdictions in California—including Sacramento, where Cal/EPA’s headquarters is located—have issued ‘stay at home’ orders. Like other state agencies, Cal/EPA is working hard to reduce the risk of further contagion while continuing to provide our essential services to the public. But these circumstances do limit the ability of Cal/EPA to fully comment on a complex U.S. EPA rulemaking in only 30 days.”
The Office of Administrative Law calls the rulemaking process one “designed to provide the public with a meaningful opportunity to participate in the adoption of regulations by California state agencies.”
While industry and environmental groups may tussle over the substance of regulations, they and the California Chamber of Commerce agree that participating in the rulemaking process is integral to democracy and to creating valid, enforceable and cost-effective rules that will help California meet its ambitious climate and public health goals.
Because this would be a temporary pause in the regulatory calendar, there is no question of sidestepping current environmental and health laws. And while there is little doubt that there will continue to be disagreement about the scope, effectiveness and cost of new rules and regulations, the CalChamber is prepared to set aside any differences and find a way to ensure that meaningful public participation in the creation of regulatory laws is ensured across all agencies, temporarily putting on hold complex regulations that deserve to be fully vetted by the public.
Preventing Spread of Virus
Regardless of one’s position on new policies pending before federal, state and local agencies, these requests for extensions represent broad agreement that the priority for public agencies and the parties they regulate should be preventing the spread of COVID-19.
To the state and federal agencies’ credit, they have granted two- to four-week extensions in a few circumstances. However, as environmental groups and industry have agreed, the pandemic will not be resolved in a few weeks.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists and many others suggested a public comment deadline of “at least 60 days after the national emergency has been lifted,” while the CalChamber, as well as some other environmental groups, have requested 90 days.
For now, the CalChamber urges the agencies to put disagreements aside and figure out how to put a temporary hold on pending regulations until all Californians can be heard, allowing the current focus to be on reducing the impact of COVID-19.