Dems Want Rule Comment Periods Paused Amid Outbreak

By Adam Lidgett
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Law360 (April 2, 2020, 6:46 PM EDT) -- A group of Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have asked that the White House pause comment periods on active rulemakings across the federal government, saying the coronavirus pandemic is hurting the public's ability to voice opinions on regulations.

Numerous House committee chairs, ranging from Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., to Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., sent a letter to acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought on Wednesday raising concerns over how the pandemic will affect the ability of the public to comment on proposed rules.

The legislators called for the OMB to postpone any public comment deadline "by at least 45 days beyond the end of the declared national emergency" and to also push off any public hearings.

"The right of the American people to meet with federal agencies and comment on proposed actions is invariably affected by the ongoing pandemic," the letter read.

The lawmakers pointed out that by Wednesday there were hundreds of comment periods relating to proposed federal regulations that will be over within the next month.

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revised a controversial proposed rule limiting the agency's ability to rely on certain scientific data, broadening the rule's scope and giving itself more flexibility. The public was given 30 days to comment on the rule, and April 17 will be the cutoff date, the lawmakers warned.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority also last month said it was moving forward with a proposed rule that would let unionized government workers stop paying dues whenever they want after their first year of membership in a union, potentially undoing decades of labor law precedent. Comments on that rule are due before April 9, according to the Federal Register.

The OMB said in a statement to Law360 on Thursday that "agencies have been advised to consider extending comment periods on a case by case basis in their discretion, consistent with sensitivity to urgency in particular rulemakings."

The Wednesday letter comes amid growing calls for federal regulators to put their policymaking agendas on hold during the COVID-19 crisis, which has caused major disruptions throughout the economy and sent officials at all levels of government scrambling to respond.

Last month, a coalition of activist groups such as Greenpeace, Public Citizen and Americans for Financial Reform asked the White House and several federal agencies to freeze any rulemaking that isn't directly related to the COVID-19 response effort.

The activist groups at the time 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 activist groups' letter followed a similar one sent to Trump by the National Governors Association and other groups representing state and local officials. The National Governors Association and the related groups said that the "massive challenges" they're facing from the pandemic will hinder their ability to engage with the federal government on rulemakings that affect millions of people.

--Additional reporting by Juan Carlos Rodriguez, Kevin Stawicki and Jon Hill. Editing by Jack Karp.


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