A Guide to Participating in Hearings by Former EPA Employees

Public hearings are an important part of how EPA and other federal agencies write regulations.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably considering attending a public hearing on a proposed rule that would either roll back some important environmental safeguards, or set new requirements that don’t go far enough to protect the environment or public health.  This short guide will show you how to make the most of your attendance. 

Upcoming Public Hearings on Proposed Rollbacks by Trump's EPA

Vehicle Standards -- For information on the September 24-25-26 public hearings on the proposed Trump Administration rule to roll back vehicle greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards -- including suggested talking points and advance registration information -- see Trump Administration Proposes to Roll Back Climate Pollution and Fuel Economy Standards for Cars and Light Trucks.

CPP-ACE -- For information on the October 1 public hearing for the proposed replacement rule ("ACE") for the Clean Power Plan --  including suggested talking points and advance registration information -- see A Poor Replacement for the Clean Power Plan:  ACE.

Basics on Rules and Public Hearings

As part of writing rules (“rules” and “regulations” are the same thing, and we use the words interchangeably), EPA must first propose a rule and allow the public to comment on it.  EPA must consider each comment and to respond to each one, before finalizing a rule.  EPA often changes its proposals in response to public comments – sometimes in a major way, sometimes not.  EPA can be sued if it overlooks comments, so public comments are taken very seriously.

Most comments are submitted to EPA in writing.  Sometimes EPA doesn’t even have hearings at all.  So if you can’t make it to a hearing, submit your comments in writing – Save EPA's web pages on each proposed rollback can show you how. But for major rules where there is much public interest, hearings are more common.  Hearings allow EPA to get more nuanced information than is sometimes possible in written comments, and it also allows participants to make a more powerful and long-lasting impression upon EPA officials. 

Tips on How to Participate Effectively

Be sure you know when your hearing is.  Hearing dates, times, and locations are announced in the Federal Register. The Save EPA website includes individual web pages on proposed rollbacks (linked) and those pages include hearing basics and links for more information.  You don’t have to register to attend a hearing, but you may have to register in advance if you want to speak.  Remember to bring written copies of your testimony.  The written version can be longer than what you present orally.

Remember that your presence at a hearing is important.  It lets EPA know that the subject matter is so important to you that you’ve disrupted your daily routine to attend the hearing. Large numbers of people attending hearings can help get media attention on an issue as well.

While your presence is important, the best thing to do at a hearing is to sign up to speak.  Sign up early and speak early, to maximize any possible media coverage.  Don’t worry if you’re not a subject matter expert – the environment affects all of us, and your thoughts as a resident and voter are important.  EPA hearings are sometimes crowded and you will likely have a very limited time to speak – perhaps 2-5 minutes.  You can bring notes with you, but you will be a more effective speaker if you are able to speak your mind instead of solely reading from notes.

What to say?  Elsewhere on the Save EPA web site are rule-specific pages on each proposed rollback rule with information and suggested talking points to assist public hearing participants and those submitting written comments to the docket.  From any Save EPA web page, you can find them on the menu bar under "Fighting Rule Rollbacks."  Don’t feel you have to cover everything.  If you are not a technical expert, you may be more effective if you focus on only 1-3 points that you feel most strongly about.  If you are part of a group, coordinate beforehand and split up the points so you can cover more.

Like other hearings, remember to be polite – calmness is optional, but politeness is not.  It is possible that the EPA officials in attendance may even be on your side!  So think of your role as (1) giving the EPA officials reasons why they should tell their management to redo the proposal, and (2) letting them know it is urgently important that they do so, and (3) letting the press know the same, so they can let others know what you said. 

Personal stories can be very powerful, so be sure to let EPA know how their actions affect you and your family.  Here’s an example, from the New York Times, of what this could mean:

Margo T. Oge, who led the transportation and air quality office at the EPA, recalled a public hearing that included the mother of a child with severe asthma sitting next to an oil executive. The proposal in question was to reduce sulfur in diesel oil, a measure designed to prevent respiratory and other illnesses, especially asthma in children.

 The oil executive spoke first, and complained about the costs of meeting the standards.

 Then the mother stepped up to speak. “She recounted how many times a year the child ended up at the hospital with asthma attacks, and was unable to play outdoors when air pollution was high,” Ms. Oge said. “You could see how uncomfortable the executive became.”

You can include other personal information if you like.  For instance, if you have professional or technical expertise or experience in the subject matter, say so.  If you have pertinent data, be sure to submit it in your written testimony.  And if your background makes you a “nontraditional” speaker (for instance, a coal miner testifying about climate change), say so.

Here are other ways ways to maximize your impact at a hearing:

If you are part of a group, especially if only one member of the group will be speaking, the group can reinforce the speaker by wearing buttons or similar colors.

It is not necessary for a group to sit together. In fact, it is sometimes preferable for a group to not sit together, so you can independently support what each other says.

Consider having an outside demonstration just before the hearing starts (you may need a permit). That’s also a good way to alert people to the issue and get media attention.

Remember that EPA is not required to respond to you at public hearings. But you can ask them questions anyway, if that is the most powerful way to make a point.

If possible, bring a friend or colleague along who can record you making your statement, and if you are comfortable, post it on social media.

If reporters are present, offer to talk with them further.

Building on Hearing Testimony -- Other Actions You Can Take

Share your thoughts about EPA’s direction in other ways. Write a letter to your local paper and your representatives in Congress, and talk with your neighbors.

Remember to vote.

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