Evaluating Public Hearing Testimony in the Context of a High-Risk Environmental Rulemaking: Does public hearing testimony provide the EPA with the information the agency requests in its proposed rulemaking?
Does public hearing testimony provide the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the information the agency requests in its proposed rulemaking? In one EPA proposed rulemaking, the agency requests public comment on approximately 140 topics specific to the proposed rulemaking. This analysis examines the testimony from two public hearings to see if the speakers provided any of the information the agency requested. Public hearings are used frequently in our democratic system and can vary substantially. The public hearings associated with a high-risk environmental proposed rulemaking are compared to characteristics that are common to public hearings in general. The public participation characteristics examined are aspects of representation and substantive involvement. The EPA’s describes representation in the agency’s public participation policies as the “various publics” that they seek to involve in public participation. Academic literature criticizes public hearings as non-substantive with content of minimal value. The EPA public hearing testimony was analyzed for each of these—Various Publics and Substantive content—to see how well the testimony compares to the expectation of the agency’s own policies and to general academic benchmarks. Understanding what information these high-risk environmental public hearings provide, how the representation compares to the agency’s own public participation policies, and how the public hearings compare to the general understanding of public hearings provides meaningful information about the value of these public hearings. This case study of the public hearing testimony expected the public not to provide the information the agency requested, based on a common impression of public hearings being legitimizing events without substantive participation. The expectation for representativeness was that any meaningful or substantive content would be provided by a dominant regulated community, based on another study of public participation proceedings involving a federal agency. The proposed rule has multiple regulatory options that the agency has requested comment on. The speakers testified a preference for which regulatory option they support. In this case, the proposed rulemaking was the EPA’s Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Identification and Listing of Special Wastes; Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities, 2009. The proposed rulemaking had three regulatory options. Each testimony includes the speakers “vote” toward their preferred final rule outcome. The speaker’s vote for a regulatory option was compared to the outcome of the final ruling on December 19, 2015.
Science, Technology and Public Policy (MS)
Department, Program, or Center
Public Policy (CLA)
Stein, Deborah, "Evaluating Public Hearing Testimony in the Context of a High-Risk Environmental Rulemaking: Does public hearing testimony provide the EPA with the information the agency requests in its proposed rulemaking?" (2017). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
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