Once the United States Congress passes a new law and the President has signed the law, agencies within the executive branch, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), lay out the day-to-day level details of the new law in the form of regulations. In a sense, Congress creates a skeleton when it passes a new law and the agencies put flesh on the bones as they develop the specific details of how the new law will work and make the necessary policy choices to implement the Administration’s priorities. Regulations set out specific rules about what is legal and what is not. For instance, a regulation issued by EPA to implement a requirement of the Clean Water Act will state how much of a particular pollutant may be discharged to a local stream. The rule will tell local utilities and industries how much of a specific pollutant can legally be discharged into the local stream and what penalties violators will be subject to should they fail to follow the rule.

Many agencies will also issue memorandums to clarify the agency’s position on policies or regulations. Technical guidance or policy memorandums express the agency’s interpretation of the intent of a regulation or rule and they do not have the force and effect of law. Often agencies use guidance documents to explain the result that regulated entities must obtain but they do not define how a regulated entity must obtain this result. Technical guidance or policy memorandums are not subject to the requirements of notice and comment. However, agencies will often publish these memorandums in the Federal Register to notify regulated stakeholders.

The agency authorized to develop regulations or rules implementing a new law after considering any problems will propose regulations that are subsequently listed in the Federal Register. Publication in the Federal Register enables the general public and interested stakeholders to consider the new rule and submit comments on the proposal to the agency developing the new rule. The Federal Register is the official daily publication of the US Government for proposed rules, notices, as well as Executive Orders and other Presidential documents. The Federal Register is published daily Monday to Friday, except for Federal holidays.

At each stage in the public participation process, the agency publishes a notice in the Federal Register. Such notices include:
  • Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (the original proposal)
  • Request for Public Comment
  • Notice of Public Meeting where the proposal will be discussed
  • Notices about Public Hearings where the public may present comments to the agency
  • Notice of Final Rulemaking (the text of the final regulation)
Interested stakeholders and the general public are invited to make comments on new rule proposals and the implementing agency must consider all the comments it receives on the proposed rule. Agencies are not, however, bound by the views expressed by the public as forming a basis for its decision. As a member of the public, you can submit your comments on proposed regulations and have the government take your views into account. There are several ways to submit comments on a proposed rule. Comments may be submitted by:
  • Mail
  • The agency website
  • E-mail
  • The Federal eRulemaking portal: www.regulations.gov. Regulations.gov is the US government website that enables users to identify, review and submit comments on federal documents that are open for comments and published in the Federal Register.

The introduction included in the Federal Register notice will provide instructions in the “Addresses” section detailing the process you should follow for submitting comments. Always review these instructions carefully.

At the close of the comment period, the agency will:
  • Consider all comments it received on the proposal and determine if any revisions to the proposal are warranted and/or necessary based upon the comments received
  • Prepare a comment and response document explaining its justification for either revising the proposed rule based upon the comments received or a justification as to why the proposed rule was not revised
  • If necessary, revise the new rule accordingly based upon the comments received
  • Issue the Final Rule with an effective date in the Federal Register.

For most regulations, EPA saves public comments in a docket. The docket organizes information related to each regulation, including background reports, Federal Register notices, and other supporting documents. Each docket is accessible to the public. You can visit regulations.gov, which allows users to send comments and access docket materials electronically.

Once a regulation is completed and published as a final rule, it is “codified” by being published in the Code of Federal Regulations. Known as the CFR, this compilation of government regulations is divided into 50 titles that represent topics of federal authority, such as education, transportation, and agriculture. A searchable database containing the complete Code of Federal Regulations is available from the Government Printing Office.