The House and Senate disagreed earlier this month over the Environmental Protection Agency's right to regulate greenhouse gases. After the Senate rejected a bill that would limit the EPA's authority on the matter, the House passed the bill by a vote of 255-172. While this specific regulatory power might remain in question for some time, the EPA has many well-established rules and guidelines that extend into many other areas of the economy, from auto emissions to dentistry.
Many Americans know that the EPA regulates auto emissions and nuclear waste. But the EPA's powers extend into dozens of industries that produce hazardous or toxic waste. Mining, dry cleaning, and auto repair are just a few of the industries whose practices are governed by EPA rules. Altogether, the agency publishes 80 to 150 rules per year.
The EPA regulatory process begins with a law authorizing the agency to regulate a given business, industry, or process. Laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act grant the EPA the authority to perform many of its regulatory duties. The agency then must create regulations that better specify how the law is to be followed. Many EPA regulations, for example, stipulate what levels of certain pollutants might be legal, or how people should dispose of certain substances. Regulations also specify penalties for those who do not follow the regulations.
The agency says that economic cost-benefit analysis is a major element of agency rule-making. By law, the EPA must perform cost-benefit assessments when making "economically significant rules," which are those with an economic impact of $100 million or more. In these cases, the agency also often performs other analyses, such as risk assessments and analyses of environmental justice implications.
The EPA also has a public comment period for proposed rules, during which members of the public may submit feedback via mail or online. According to the EPA, comment periods are usually 30, 60, or 90 days long. Anyone may comment, and interested industries, organizations, and environmental groups provide a significant portion of feedback. For example, many people submitted comments regarding a 2009 proposed rule about vehicle emissions standards via the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Sierra Club, two environmental advocacy groups.