Find it in the Federal Register – Government Transparency

Information is available at your fingertips.

The Federal Register enables you to learn about proposed regulations and participate in the decision-making process of the U.S. federal government. I like that.

The purpose of the Federal Register is to be a source for and a record of the official actions of the executive branch of the U.S. government. Information is compiled into a consistent format that is published and made available to the public, in print and online, each business day (except federal holidays).

The Federal Register contains executive orders and proclamations issued by the president, rules and regulations that federal agencies are proposing, implementing, or repealing, and public notices about hearings, meetings, and federal grant applications.

After browsing a few issues of the Federal Register, I realized that it offers an early warning system of sorts by providing a heads up on what federal agencies are considering doing before they actually do it (and afterward, too.)

This empowers you and me to get involved early in issues that we care about by writing, calling, or emailing our elected officials, attending public meetings, and/or making public comments on specific items (anonymously if preferred).

Now, I subscribe to the Federal Register and receive a daily summary in my email inbox and you can, too.

In this post, you will have an opportunity to learn a little about the history of the Federal Register and then look at an example from the Friday, April 20, 2018 issue, which prompted this post. Here is a hint. What does the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 have to do with opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and natural gas exploration?

A Brief History of the Federal Register

The Federal Register got its start during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt became the 32nd president of the United States in 1933, he immediately set about trying to fulfill his campaign promise of creating a New Deal for Americans who were suffering from the worst economic crisis in the country’s history. Between his executive orders and legislation from Congress, there was an onslaught of new programs, rules, and regulations resulting in a mountain of documents.

Back then, everything was printed on paper with little consistency in format and there were limited ways to make the information available to the public and other government agencies leaving many people in the dark. For instance, federal agencies found it difficult to keep track of their own documents and companies complained that they could not comply with regulations that they did not know existed.

Two pieces of legislation made substantial inroads into taming the document chaos and making information more accessible.

The National Archives Act of 1934 created a new agency responsible for taking custody of original federal government documents, archiving them, and making them available for public inspection. Later they were put in charge of publishing the Federal Register in conjunction with the Government Printing Office.

The Federal Register Act of 1935 required that certain documents be printed and distributed in a uniform and timely manner in a new publication called the Federal Register. The documents were to include: presidential proclamations and executive orders; documents the president determined to have general applicability and legal effect; documents required to be published by Act of Congress; and documents authorized to be published by regulations.

Federal Register, Volume 1, No. 1, March 14, 1936
Federal Register, Volume 1, No. 1, March 14, 1936

A feature of the law was that no document could be used against any person unless it had been published in the Federal Register first. That also meant that people could not claim ignorance of rules and regulations anymore.

One way for people to keep current was to pay $10.00 a year for a Federal Register by mail subscription.

The first Federal Register rolled off the printing press on March 14, 1936.

This 16-page publication was mostly taken up by regulations from the Treasury Department pertaining to the newly passed Social Security Act. It also included a presidential executive order with extensive directions about enlarging the Cape Romain Migratory Bird Refuge in South Carolina and a cryptic notice from the Department of Agriculture about a public hearing scheduled to address the regulation of milk handling in St. Louis, Missouri.

Since its inception in 1936, the Federal Register system has expanded and evolved.

In 1937, Congress passed an amendment to the Federal Register Act providing for a codification of regulatory documents resulting in the Code of Federal Regulations that exists today. Regulations in the Code are organized into fifty subject areas called Titles, such as Title 7 – Agriculture, Title 21 – Food and Drugs, and Title 40 – Protection of Environment.

The Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 was important because it made the rulemaking process (creating regulations) more transparent to the public. This law requires federal agencies to publish notices and information in the Federal Register about proposed rulemaking and provide an opportunity for the public to comment before the final rules can be put into effect.

The Federal Register system entered the Internet age in 1992 when the Federal Register became available via an electronic bulletin board. Nowadays, the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations have their own websites and everything is available online as well as in print.

These are just a few of the highlights of the history of the Federal Register. If you are interested in more in-depth information, there are links in the resource section below.

Next is a current example of the Federal Register.

Federal Register, Volume 83, No. 77, April 20, 2018

Earlier in the post, I posed the question, “What does the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 have to do with opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and natural gas exploration?” You may already know the answer. If not, read on.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain Looking Toward Brooks Range Mountains - Photo Credit USFWS
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain Looking Toward Brooks Range Mountains in Alaska – Photo Credit USFWS

You are probably familiar with President Trump’s promise to reduce corporate tax rates in hopes that with more money in their pockets companies will create jobs for Americans. Congress pushed through and passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 on December 22, 2017, so the president could sign it before Christmas.

Buried on page 182 of the 185-page Tax Act is a prime example of pork barrel politics in action, which is when a completely unrelated item is tacked onto a bill because it would not have had enough support in Congress to pass on its own.

This add-on to the Tax Act makes a small but significant amendment to the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act of 1980, which specifically prohibits the production of oil and gas from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) unless authorized by an Act of Congress.

The Tax Act provided the necessary Act of Congress and directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to open up the 1.6 million acres of the ANWR known as the Coastal Plain for an oil and natural gas leasing program.

By law, the BLM is required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (a report) before they can implement a new oil and gas leasing program. They are also required to inform the public of their intention to do so via the Federal Register and to provide an opportunity for public comment.

Thanks to the early warning provided by the Federal Register, this issue is now on my radar screen. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to get in on the ground floor so to speak by making a public comment on the website where the BLM is accepting comments. Please consider joining me and making your own comment.

BLM ANWR Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Program EIS Notice Public Comment

After reading this post, I hope you have gained an appreciation for the value of the Federal Register and will take a few minutes to create your own account and subscription. The sign-up link is in the upper right-hand corner of the Federal Register website.

Featured Image at Top: Little Kid Wearing a Pith Helmet Lying in the Grass Looking through Binoculars – Photo Credit iStock/Maartje van Caspel

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Earth Day 2018 – Mr. Secretary, Go Green

The time of fossil fuels is over.

This Earth Day I propose enjoying some outdoor fun and writing a letter to a government official about an environmental issue that is important to you.

My Earth Day plans include participating in a field trip with the California Native Plant Society and writing a letter to the Secretary of the Interior, which I already did (see below).

Earth Day 1970

In 1969, Gaylord Nelson was a U.S. Senator representing his home state of Wisconsin. He had long been concerned about the environmental deterioration occurring in the United States because private companies were being allowed to exploit public resources polluting and degrading air, water, and land with impunity. He had been trying to get the American public to make a national issue out of the environment with little success.

Reading an article about the anti-Vietnam War teach-ins taking place at colleges across the country gave him an idea. Nelson decided to try the same method to start a grassroots environmental movement. He formed a nonprofit organization and asked a Harvard graduate student named Denis Hayes to organize the first Environmental Teach-In.

Protesters Carrying Earth Day Posters April 22, 1970 - Photo Credit: Doug Draper
Protesters Carrying Earth Day Posters April 22, 1970 – Photo Credit: Doug Draper

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets demanding that the government take action to clean up the environment and stop industries from using the air, water, and land as free places to dump toxic waste.

Pressured by the public, Congress passed far-reaching clean air and clean water legislation that has been protecting Americans for almost 50 years.

Earth Day 2018

Now, in 2018, Americans are facing a new assault on the environment and the laws that Congress put in place to protect us from being taken advantage of and poisoned by private industries and public agencies.

I believe that I have a responsibility to speak up. You can choose to do so, too. We can tell our supposedly democratic government founded to serve “We the People,” that we strongly oppose the dismantling of environmental protections and regulations and the destruction of our public lands. We can stand up and say it is not acceptable that our own government is endangering and harming the people we love.

Writing a letter is one way you can exercise your right to Freedom of Speech.

Below is my letter to Secretary Zinke regarding the unprecedented and dangerous expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration and development he is overseeing as the Secretary of the Interior. I will add any response I receive to the end of this post.

BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Drilling Platform on Fire in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010
BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Drilling Platform on Fire in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 – Photographer Unknown

If you are interested in learning more about the 2019-2024 Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program that I discuss in my letter, you will find links in the resources section below.

I hope you will join me in writing a letter yourself.

April 12, 2018

The Honorable Ryan Zinke
Secretary
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20240

Re: Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Natural Gas Exploration and Development

Dear Mr. Secretary,

Overseeing a department with 70,000 employees who manage one-fifth of the land in the United States, 35,000 miles of coastline, and 1.7 billion acres of the outer continental shelf is a heavy responsibility. You have the power to affect the wellbeing of over 327,000,000 Americans now and in the future.

I am writing to you as a mother, an American citizen, and a resident of the California Central Coast to express my strong opposition to the 2019-2024 Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (DPP).

The United States needs to get off fossil fuels not embark upon an unprecedented expansion of oil and natural gas exploration and production along almost the entire coastline of the country.

As the DPP states, outer continental shelf oil and gas development is a long-term endeavor fraught with technical issues and environmental risks. It mentions but does not address global warming or catastrophic oil spills. “Production from exploration and development in newly available OCS areas will likely not occur for a decade or more, and then will continue for another 30 to 40 years or longer” (p. 1).

Offshore oil and gas operations require substantial infrastructure both offshore and onshore including drilling platforms, pipelines, transfer stations, storage tanks, and processing facilities. Once fossil fuel companies invest billions of dollars into building this infrastructure they will likely continue producing oil and gas for decades.

Locking the United States into 50 years of expanded oil and gas production will not generate energy security or economic vitality for the American people. Global warming is not some distant amorphous threat it is already happening. The continued burning of fossil fuels is endangering all Americans and people all over the world.

To make America great again, we need to stop looking back and move forward. The time of fossil fuels is over. Clean renewable energy is the future that we need to invest in, right now. I urge you to use your authority to curtail fossil fuel development and encourage deployment of clean renewable energy on public lands (submerged or not).

In 20 years, what do you want to say to your children and grandchildren? “I am proud I was instrumental in opening up the entire United States coastline to oil and gas exploration.” or “I am proud that I did everything in my power to move the country towards clean renewable energy to keep Earth habitable for you and your children.”

Sincerely,

Linda Anne Poppenheimer

Featured Image at Top: Three Wind Turbines at Sunset off the Irish Coast – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Peter Cripps

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