How the EPA Writes Regulations

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One of the ways the EPA works to protect the environment is by creating and enforcing legislation that holds individuals and corporations responsible for their impact on the earth. Though Congress is ultimately responsible for passing laws, the EPA and other federal agencies have some power to help shape those laws and regulations.

Creating a Law

Before it can become a law, a bill must be proposed by a member of Congress. The bill is then assigned a number and passed to the appropriate committee to evaluate the appropriateness of the legislation. At this step, agencies like the EPA may be called upon to comment on the bill’s merit. The committee revises and adds to the bill, after which it is brought to the floor of the House or the Senate for debate and voting.

If both chambers pass the bill, it is sent to the President for either approval or veto. Once passed, it is known as an act or a statute and is recorded in the United States Code, the permanent record of U.S. law that is published every six years. Some of the EPA’s best-known legislation passed in this manner including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Enforcing the Law

Even when a law is passed after considerable debate, it does not contain the specifics that make it enforceable. It is up to agencies like the EPA to set those specifics. For example, the Safe Drinking Water Act may state that there should be a limit to the amount of lead in water that is considered safe to drink, but the EPA must consult with scientists and other researchers to set that limit, as well as the penalty for exceeding it.

Creating a Regulation

If a regulation is deemed necessary, the EPA creates a proposal known as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The notice is published publically and anyone can submit comments on it. After revisions, the regulation is finalized and added to the Code of Federal Regulations, which contains all regulations passed by the federal government. Out of fifty volumes, environmental legislation is usually categorized under Title 40, which is revised every year on July 1. Once the regulation is created, it can then be enforced by the agency.


Project Vote Smart. (2010) “Government 101: How a Bill Becomes a Law.” Retrieved March 21, 2011 from
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (March 2, 2011) “The Basics of the Regulatory Process.”  Retrieved March 21, 2011 from the EPA.

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