Moving Beyond Schoolhouse Rock and Understanding Regulatory Processes

This week in North Philly Notes, Sara Rinfret, editor of Who Really Makes Environmental Policy?, writes about why regulations do matter.

Former President Trump often used slogans on the campaign trail to “end bad regulations” or to halt the “war on coal.” These soundbites assisted the Trump administration’s efforts to rollback more than 100 environmental regulations in the United States during his presidency. But, why? Are regulations bad?

Teaching courses on U.S. government to high school or college students often only covers the Schoolhouse Rock‘s version of “How a Bill Becomes a Law.” Unfortunately, we do not spend enough time examining in our curriculum what occurs after a piece of legislation becomes law.

Who Really Makes Environmental Policy?, urges that we must increase our understanding of regulatory processes to document policymaking in the United States less complex, with a myriad of access points for public participation. The book uses illustrative environmental policy case studies to guide the reader through the stages of administrative rulemaking. Unpacking these regulatory stages moves us beyond our Schoolhouse Rock mindset and illustrates how and why Congress delegates its decision-making authority to administrative agencies.

Congress delegates the implementation of policy to administrative agencies because it does not have the time or expertise to do so. This delegation of authority provides administrative agencies the ability to create law through the administrative rulemaking process. The stages of this process can be best understood by learning from the case studies that examine each of the distinct steps, such as rule development, public comment, to post-rulemaking activities. Our regulatory adventure does not stop after the stages of the rulemaking, but it is monitored and carried out by state environmental inspectors who ensure compliance with environmental law. These individuals, for example, ensure a nearby company is not improperly disposing of waste.

Unfortunately, the regulatory process is not discussed enough and often depicted as detrimental to business. Who Really Makes Environmental Policy? dispels this myth by inviting and encouraging the opportunity for students, practitioners and the general public to engage in a clear, step-by-step guide about the stages of the process. Specifically, we argue environmental policymaking is not made in a black hole. Instead, taking the time to understand regulatory processes is another access point for the American public to directly engage in providing input by using electronic platforms such as Regulations.gov.  

Regulations are not bad in general; they protect the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. The heavy lifters of environmental policy are career civil servants, your next-door neighbor who works for agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, or the National Park Service, to name a few. We just need to do a better job of understanding the process, which is the goal of Who Really Makes Environmental Policy? As Regulations.gov clearly states, “Make a difference. Submit your comments, and let your voice be heard!”

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