April 01, 2020

House Committee Chairs Request Extension of Public Comment Periods During Coronavirus National Emergency

Washington, D.C. – Fourteen House Committee Chairs sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Russell Vought today requesting an immediate extension of public comment periods, hearings and meetings due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  The Committee leaders asked that OMB direct agencies to extend public comment periods by at least 45 days beyond the end of the declared national emergency. 

The letter was signed by Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Science, Space, and Technology Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Homeland Security Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Education and Labor Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA),

Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA) and Small Business Chairwoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Veterans Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) and Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA). 

“In light of the evolving situation concerning the coronavirus (‘COVID-19’) pandemic, we write to urge you to direct federal agencies to immediately reschedule all public hearings and meetings and extend public comment periods,” the Committee leaders wrote to Acting Director Vought. “The global public health pandemic has already reached over 186,000 cases here in the United States, and claimed the lives of more than 3,600 Americans.  It is also increasingly affecting all aspects of public life in the United States.  The right of the American people to meet with federal agencies and comment on proposed actions is invariably affected by the ongoing pandemic.”  

In their letter, the Committee Chairs cite the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to fundamentally alter its Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science Rule as an example of a public comment period that was both announced during this national emergency and given just a 30-day public comment period, which closes soon.  EPA’s changes include major provisions that would limit the Agency’s ability to use critical studies that demonstrate the consequences of pollution on public health.  They go on to contest the Trump Administration’s assertion that there exist no barriers to public comment merely because regulations.gov remains available, writing that they are “concerned that the disruptions caused by COVID-19 will deprive citizens, local communities, and other stakeholders the opportunity to engage with agencies on these major policy revisions and many other rulemakings.”

The Committee Chairs continued, “We request that you direct agencies to promptly postpone and reschedule when it again becomes feasible to hold public hearings and meetings.  We also would request that you direct these agencies to extend public comment periods by at least 45 days beyond the end of the declared national emergency, including comment periods which closed between March 13 to present, as well as those that are still open.” 

Their letter is available HERE.