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Make Your Voice Heard on Regulations.gov

Give the government a piece of your mind (politely).

One way to be an engaged citizen is to comment on pending U.S. government regulations related to issues that are important to you. It may be easier than you think.

The idea for this post came to me while I was watching a Presidents’ Day mattress sale commercial sandwiched between television segments of the Winter Olympic Games. I thought, “Geez, nowadays, we commemorate the birthday of our founding father with discounts on mattresses.” “Surely, we can honor George Washington in a more suitable way.”

George Washington dedicated most of his life fighting for, establishing, and protecting many of the freedoms Americans enjoy today. He embodied government for the people and by the people. When I think of George Washington, the Bill of Rights First Amendment immediately comes to mind.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” —United States Constitution Bill of Rights First Amendment

There are many ways that you can exercise your right to freedom of speech and share your thoughts and opinions with your elected officials and with government agencies including calling, writing, and emailing, attending town hall meetings and events, voting, participating in public demonstrations, and being active on social media.

Another important but perhaps not well-known avenue of communication is Regulations.gov. This website makes it easy for you to obtain information about pending regulations (also called rules) and then comment on them before they are finalized.

Until a few years ago, I had never heard of Regulations.gov so I decided to celebrate George Washington’s birthday this year by spreading the word.

E-Government Act of 2002

In 2002, Congress passed the E-Government Act to bring the federal government into the Internet age.

“To enhance the management and promotion of electronic Government services and processes by establishing a Federal Chief Information Officer within the Office of Management and Budget, and by establishing a broad framework of measures that require using Internet-based information technology to enhance citizen access to Government information and services, and for other purposes.” —Public Law 107-347, 107th Congress

Regulations.gov is the Internet interface for the eRulemaking Program, which is just one of many E-Government initiatives, set in motion by the passage of the law.

Rulemaking Process

Rulemaking is the process used by almost 300 federal agencies to issue regulations for laws enacted by Congress. Congress decides what needs to be accomplished and the affected agencies determine how to do it.

During the rulemaking process, the agency gathers information, prepares a draft rule and supporting documentation, and publishes it in the Federal Register and on Regulations.gov.

The public then has an opportunity to review the information and comment on it within a specific period, often ranging from 30 to 60 days. Sometimes the comment period is extended or re-opened. Comments and documentation submitted by the public are considered during the decision making process. The final rule is published in the Federal Register along with the date it will go into effect.

If you are interested in learning more about the Federal Register or the Rulemaking process, there are links in the resources section below.

Regulations.gov

On the Regulations.gov website, you can browse pending rules to determine if there is something you want to comment on, but chances are you will become aware of an important issue from other sources like news reports, social media postings, people you know, newsletters, and heads up emails from organizations you trust. Keep your eyes and ears alert for terms like pending regulation, proposed rule, and rulemaking.

On your first visit to Regulations.gov, I suggest you dink around a bit to familiarize yourself with the site. For instance, clicking the “Learn” tab will take you to a page that provides an overview of the regulatory process and you can click on a link to learn about the eRulemaking Initiative. The “Help” tab houses tips on how to use the site, FAQs, and a glossary section, which I think is helpful for understanding terms. For instance, every rule has a docket ID that is essentially the file name of the electronic folder for the rule.

To find a specific rule from the “Home” page, you can either type a docket ID, agency name, or keyword into the search window or click on the “Browse” tab.

When you land on the docket home page, you will find a summary, supporting documents, important dates, contact information, and a “Comment Now!” button. If you have not previously had the opportunity to read the specifics of the issue, this is a good place to do it.

Making a Comment

When you are ready to enter your comment, click on the “Comment Now!” button. Type your comment into the window, include your name if you want, and attach documents that support your comment (if you have any). You will have an opportunity to review and edit your comment before submitting it.

Every comment is assigned a unique number and you can request to have it emailed to you. Depending on how many public comments are being submitted and processed, your comment may not immediately show up in the comments section on Regulations.gov.

The example below is my public comment regarding the federal government’s intent to expand offshore oil and gas exploration, which you have likely heard or read about in the past several weeks.

Regulations.gov Comment Example

If you would like to join me in opposing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration, click on the following link Docket ID: BOEM-2017-0074, which will take you directly to the docket page. Then click the “Comment Now! button” to make your comment.

If your interest lies in another area such as education, agriculture, healthcare, transportation, or _____ that is okay. Select a different docket and submit a comment.

You have the right and the power to be an engaged citizen. Submitting public comments on Regulations.gov is just one way to do it.

Of course, I have no way of knowing what George Washington would think about Regulations.gov, but I hope he would approve.

Featured Image at Top: Colored Comment Bubbles on Blue Background – Photo Credit iStock/BrianAJackson

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Adopt a Native Plant

Native plants make good neighbors.

I did not always appreciate the beauty of native plants and how integral they are to the wellbeing of the communities in which they reside, but I do now.

A native plant is a plant or tree that is adapted to live in the soil and climate of a particular region (small or large) and that can co-exist with neighboring plants and animals without being killed off or taking over. Native plants are good for the environment because they do not require extra inputs like water, synthetic fertilizers, or pesticides. They help nourish the soil, prevent erosion, maintain biodiversity, and provide habit and food for local wildlife and people.

It was not as if I woke up one morning thinking “Wow, native plants are beautiful. I need to learn more about them.” The appreciation for native plants just sort of crept up on me after several years of living in the Monterey pine forest of the California Central Coast.

I am originally from Southern California where my spouse and I doggedly defied the hot dry climate by maintaining not one, but two turf grass lawns. We also tended two dozen rose bushes, a few hydrangeas, and a bed of azaleas. The venerable old oak tree in the corner of the backyard might have been the only native plant on the property.

As you can imagine, moving from a manicured yard to a wild one took some getting used to. What you might call a weed, we call grass. Plant and tree seedlings volunteer to live wherever the wind blows their seeds or an animal deposits them. Birds visit daily to avail themselves of our birdbaths and deer cruise through in search of food and sometimes to hang out.

By observing the land surrounding our house and nearby open spaces, I saw that some plants seemed to flourish growing with a variety of different plants, while other plants seemed to be trying to hog a whole area just for themselves. I realized that I did not know much about native and invasive plants and that even our tiny piece of land might need a hand to be at its best.

I set out to educate myself by reading, joining the California Native Plant Society, and participating in events that provide me with opportunities to learn about native plants.

In October, my spouse and I attended the fall session of the Chumash Kitchen series being held at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. The Chumash people have lived in this area for thousands of years so what could be better than learning about native plants from Violet and Jeanette, two Chumash women who live here now. That day it was all about oaks and acorns. I came away informed and inspired to write Thanksgiving – We are All Connected.

We pick up the thread of the Chumash Kitchen story on a cool February morning that quickly turned into a hot day.

The Chumash Kitchen

The winter session of the Chumash Kitchen began with the group gathering outside and forming a rough circle so that Violet could give us a rundown of the morning including a few hints about the native foods we would be enjoying at breakfast and lunch.

I had left my sweater inside and was feeling a bit chilled but there was no way I was going to break the circle to go get it. I forgot I was cold after Violet introduced her father, Fred, and he began telling stories about growing up in this area. Fred is a good storyteller and I think he could have entertained us indefinitely, but Violet gave him a gentle sign that he needed to wrap things up so we could all go eat breakfast.

Breakfast consisted of tasty rice, egg, and mushroom dishes made with locally harvested and foraged ingredients. I bypassed the coffee urn to try some tea made with cedar and Yerba Buena. The tea was both warm and refreshing with a slightly minty taste and a cedar fragrance.

We Meet a Toyon

After breakfast, the group set out across the grass of the adjacent park to a nearby campground to meet a plant commonly known as Toyon and called Qwe’ by the Chumash people. In the midst of winter, this 12-foot tall Toyon was glorious with evergreen leaves and branches laden with tiny ripe red berries.

Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon
Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon at El Chorro Regional Campground in San Luis Obispo, CA – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Easily passing the conversation back and forth, Jeanette and Violet shared information about Toyons, which are native to California and especially enjoy growing with oak trees. Besides being beautiful, we learned that Toyons provide habitat and food for a wide variety of wildlife as well as food, medicine, tools, and fuel for people.

Jeanette talked about how the Chumash and other indigenous people have been tending wild native plants and trees for thousands of years by gathering seeds, planting, weeding, pruning, transplanting, harvesting, and sometimes burning. When pruning a plant or harvesting from it, Chumash people give an offering of some sort, which could be a drink of water, a pinch of tobacco, a prayer, or even a piece of hair.

The Three Yerba Sisters

With the sun now bright and hot, we walked back to a cool shady area on the botanical garden grounds to learn about three California native medicinal plants and then go meet them. As Jeanette and Violet talked about the healing properties of Yerba Buena, Yerba Mansa, and Yerba Santa, they stressed that using plants for medicinal purposes is not like taking pills.

Pharmaceutical pills usually address a narrow range of ailments, have specific dosages, and are uniform in size, color, and ingredients. A plant may have many medicinal uses as well as be a source of food for people and wildlife and it is a living being so each plant in the family will have similar traits but none will be exactly alike. It is important to get to know the plant and to help care for it, after all, it is giving a part of itself for your benefit.

Yerba Santa Plant Growing at San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
Yerba Santa Growing at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

After learning about the Yerba sisters, Lindsey from the botanical garden led us on a joyful walk through the garden to meet the plants.

She also gave us some background about the botanical garden, which showcases plants and trees from five Mediterranean climates like our own.

We headed back to the event center for a sumptuous lunch prepared by Violet and a talented group of volunteers.

Bountiful Lunch

The day before the event, a hardworking group of volunteers had done some of the meal prep work, which included removing two itsy bitsy seeds from each Toyon berry that had previously been picked and dried.

Chumash Kitchen Lunch Plate Full of Delicious Food
Chumash Kitchen Plate Full of Delicious Food – Photo Credit charmainecoimbra.com

After the food was blessed, our plates were filled with delicious looking and smelling food. A creamy gravy with ground bison was poured over rice. This was accompanied by sautéed greens and roasted root vegetables with a Toyon vinaigrette.

Chumash Kitchen Chocolate Crepe with Toyon Berries
Chumash Kitchen Chocolate Crepe with Toyon Berries – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

For dessert, we were treated to a chocolate crepe topped with rose hip infused whipped cream and a lovely handcrafted chocolate rosette.

A sweet syrup made with Toyon berries was dotted around the plate and drizzled over the top.

The dessert looked almost too good to eat, but we did eat it and it was scrumptious.

Full of information and replete with delicious food, we were sent off with a tiny Yerba Buena seedling of our own to get to know and tend.

Yerba Buena Seedling from San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
Yerba Buena Seedling from San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Get to Know a Native Plant

Meeting the Toyon was an auspicious occasion for me.

Even though I have seen hundreds of Toyons while living on the Central Coast, I had not met one until last December during my first native plant walk with the California Native Plant Society. Toyon was the very first plant pointed out on the trail. Later in the month, my spouse and I planted two Toyon seedlings in our yard as part of our tradition of planting two trees each year during the Christmas season.

I felt blessed to have had the opportunity to meet a grown-up Toyon that had been living at its location for many years and was obviously thriving. Better yet, was learning about Toyons from two Chumash women whose ancestors have been living with Toyons for centuries.

Over the past couple of months, I have developed a special affinity for Toyons that I cannot explain. When we got home, I filled up a watering can and gave the two small Toyons growing in your yard a drink and a few words of encouragement.

You can help native plants flourish in your community by adopting a native plant or two.

Learn about native plants at your local botanical garden, native plant society, or nursery. Select a native plant that appeals to you. Locate a suitable place for the plant to live in your yard. Get to know your native plant and tend it. Alternately, introduce yourself to a plant or tree living in the wild and adopt it.

Featured Image at Top: Toyon with Ripe Red Berries at El Chorro Regional Park Campground in San Luis Obispo, CA

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