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The Basics of the Regulatory Process
Have you ever wondered how EPA protects the environment? We use a variety of tools and approaches, like partnerships, educational programs, and grants. One of our most significant tools is writing regulations. Regulations are mandatory requirements that can apply to individuals, businesses, state or local governments, non-profit institutions, or others.
Congress passes the laws that govern the United States, but Congress has also authorized EPA and other federal agencies to help put those laws into effect by creating and enforcing regulations. Below, you'll find a basic description of how laws and regulations are developed, what they are, and where to find them, with an emphasis on environmental laws and regulations.
Creating a law
Step 1: Congress Writes a Bill
A member of Congress proposes a bill. A bill is a document that, if approved, will become law. To see the text of bills Congress is considering or has considered, go to Congress.gov
Step 2: The President Approves or Vetoes the Bill
If both houses of Congress approve a bill, it goes to the President who has the option to either approve it or veto it. If approved, the new law is called an act or statute. Some of the better-known laws related to the environment are the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
- Summaries of the laws EPA administers
- Congress.gov: for more information about the legislative process
Step 3: The Act is Codified in the United States Code
Once an act is passed, the House of Representatives standardizes the text of the law and publishes it in the United States Code (U.S.C.). The U.S.C. is the codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. Since 1926, the U.S.C. has been published every six years. In between editions, annual cumulative supplements are published in order to present the most current information.
- United States Code: This database is available from the Government Printing Office (GPO). GPO is the sole agency authorized by the federal government to publish the U.S.C.
Putting the law to work
Once a law is official, here's how it is put into practice: Laws often do not include all the details needed to explain how an individual, business, state or local government, or others might follow the law. The United States Code would not tell you, for example, what the speed limit is in front of your house. In order to make the laws work on a day-to-day level, Congress authorizes certain government agencies - including EPA - to create regulations.
Regulations set specific requirements about what is legal and what isn't. For example, a regulation issued by EPA to implement the Clean Air Act might explain what levels of a pollutant - such as sulfur dioxide - adequately protect human health and the environment. It would tell industries how much sulfur dioxide they can legally emit into the air, and what the penalty will be if they emit too much. Once the regulation is in effect, EPA then works to help Americans comply with the law and to enforce it.
Creating a regulation
When developing regulations, the first thing we do is ask if a regulation is needed at all. Every regulation is developed under slightly different circumstances, but this is the general process:
Step 1: EPA Proposes a Regulation
The Agency researches the issues and, if necessary, proposes a regulation, also known as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The proposal is listed in the Federal Register (FR) so that members of the public can consider it and send their comments to us. The proposed rule and supporting documents are also filed in EPA's official docket on Regulations.gov.
Step 2: EPA Considers Your Comments and Issues a Final Rule
Generally, once we consider the comments received when the proposed regulation was issued, we revise the regulation accordingly and issue a final rule. This final rule is also published in the FR and in EPA's official docket on Regulations.gov.
Step 3: The Regulation is Codified in the Code of Federal Regulations
Once a regulation is completed and has been printed in the FR as a final rule, it is codified when it is added to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR is the official record of all regulations created by the federal government. It is divided into 50 volumes, called titles, each of which focuses on a particular area. Almost all environmental regulations appear in Title 40. The CFR is revised yearly, with one fourth of the volumes updated every three months. Title 40 is revised every July 1.
- Code of Federal Regulations database - a searchable database of the entire CFR from GPO.