Lost in the Flood?

Agency Responsiveness to Mass Comment Campaigns in Administrative Rulemaking

May 26, 2020

Download this Journal Article (Regulation and Governance)

Steven J. Balla, Alexander R. Beck, Elizabeth Meehan, and Aryamala Prasad


Abstract

This article examines agency responsiveness to mass comment campaigns – collections of identical and near‐duplicate comments sponsored by organizations and submitted by group members and supporters – in administrative rulemaking in the United States. Focusing on 1,049 mass comment campaigns that occurred during 22 Environmental Protection Agency rulemakings between 2012 and 2017, the article develops and assesses expectations regarding responsiveness to campaigns relative to comments submitted outside of campaigns. The analysis demonstrates that, procedurally, the agency references mass comment campaigns in its responses to comments, but cites campaigns at lower rates than other comments. In terms of outcomes, the agency's regulations are generally not consistent with changes requested in comments, a lack of association that holds especially for mass comment campaigns. These patterns suggest that legal imperatives trump political considerations in conditioning agency responsiveness, given that mass comment campaigns – relative to other comments – generally contain little “relevant matter.”