Public Interest Groups Call For Federal Rulemaking Freeze

By Juan Carlos Rodriguez
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Law360 (March 24, 2020, 4:30 PM EDT) -- Activist groups are asking the White House and several federal agencies to freeze any rulemaking that isn't directly related to the COVID-19 response effort, saying in a letter on Tuesday that it would be a misallocation of resources to do otherwise.

Greenpeace, Public Citizen, Americans for Financial Reform, National Consumer Law Center and more than 40 other groups sent the request to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which reviews all federal regulations before they're finalized, and other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Securities and Exchange Commission. They joined the National Governors Association, which last week called for a similar freeze.

The groups asked that federal agencies place a moratorium on any pending, upcoming or new regulatory rulemaking, except for those related to the COVID-19 pandemic, until at least 30 days after the national emergency — declared by President Donald Trump on March 13 — is lifted.

"The pursuit of any non-crisis-related rulemaking would be a misallocation of limited resources that distracts needed focus from U.S. public health and welfare, and financial stability," the groups said in a letter. "This is especially crucial because the crisis means that agency capacity and resources will themselves be unusually limited."

The groups said that if the agencies proceed with pending rulemakings, they will not get the "meaningful engagement" by their members and other members of the public.

"That simply will not be possible during the current health crisis and the economic crisis it is expected to spawn, and the administrative record will lack the breadth of expert and stakeholder public submissions necessary to formulate rules and policies that effectively and fairly accomplish statutory goals," the letter said.

When federal agencies do get back to normal on rulemakings, the groups said it would be appropriate for them to take a fresh look at any rules started before the health crisis in order to "incorporate the new circumstances and reassess the necessity and relevancy of their pending or planned policies."

The groups' letter follows a similar one sent to Trump on Friday by the National Governors Association and other groups representing state and local officials. That letter said nearly 700 open comment periods are set to close in the next 30 days and more than 1,000 will close in the next 90 days, citing data from the government's online rulemaking portal,

The White House and the Office of Management and Budget, of which the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is a part, did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Although not one of the agencies the public advocacy groups targeted on Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it has not slowed down any of its regulatory efforts.

"We're open and continuing our regulatory work business," the EPA said on Tuesday. "As is fully functioning, there is no barrier to the public providing comment during the established periods."

--Additional reporting by Jon Hill. Editing by Nicole Bleier.

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