Constructive Public Comment
Wanting to provide constructive comments to public officials but don’t know where to begin? This guide is for you.
This information has been largely repurposed from the Commenter’s Checklist at regulations.gov for commenting on NPRMs. It has been annotated, expanded, and modified below to assist you in providing written or spoken comments. This information is intended to serve as a guide; it is not and should not be considered as legal advice. Please seek counsel from a lawyer if you have legal questions or concerns. These tips are meant to help the public submit comments that have an impact and help agency policy makers improve regulations, ordinances, rules, or other decisions.
When engaging with others, apply strong, persistent, polite pressure—and always be gracious and respectful. A hallmark negotiation principle at Preserve Rollins Pass is that there are no wicked people, only wicked problems.
Tips for Submitting Effective Comments*
A comment can express simple support or dissent for a regulatory action. However, a constructive, information-rich comment that clearly communicates and supports its claims is more likely to have an impact on regulatory decision making.
These tips are meant to help the public submit comments that have an impact and help policy makers improve regulations, ordinances, rules, or other decisions.
- Read and understand the regulatory document you are commenting on.
- Feel free to reach out to the agency with questions.
- Be concise but support your claims.
- Base your justification on sound reasoning, scientific evidence, and/or how you will be impacted.
- Address trade-offs and opposing views in your comment.
- Typically, there is no minimum or maximum length for an effective written comment; if you are making a public comment at a hearing, time limits are usually imposed.
- The comment process is not a vote—one well supported comment is often more influential than a thousand form letters.
- Take careful note of when comment periods end: date, time, and time zone are important. Begin formulating your comments well before the deadline.
- Attempt to fully understand each issue; if you have questions or do not understand a part of the regulatory document, proposed change, or action, you may ask for help from the agency contact listed in the document. Please note that although the agency contact can answer your questions about the document’s meaning, official comments must be submitted by following the proper process, form, or applicable meeting(s).
- Clearly identify the issues within the regulatory action on which you are commenting. If you are commenting on a particular word, phrase or sentence, provide the page number, column, and paragraph citation from the document, ordinance, statute, law, rule, or other document.
- If a rule raises many issues, do not feel obligated to comment on every one—select those issues that concern and affect you the most and/or you understand the best.
- Agencies often ask specific questions or raise issues in rulemaking proposals on subjects where they are actively looking for more information. While the agency will still accept comments on any part of the proposed regulation, please keep these questions and issues in mind while formulating your comment.
- Although agencies receive and appreciate all comments, constructive comments (either positive or negative) are the most likely to have an influence.
- If you disagree with a proposed action, suggest an alternative (including not regulating at all) and include an explanation and/or analysis of how the alternative might meet the same objective or be more effective.
- The comment process is not a vote. The board, commission, or government is attempting to formulate the best policy, so when crafting a comment it is important that you adequately explain the reasoning behind your position.
- Identify credentials and experience that may distinguish your comments from others. If you are commenting in an area in which you have relevant personal or professional experience (i.e., scientist, attorney, fisherman, businessman, etc.) say so.
- Agency reviewers look for sound science and reasoning in the comments they receive. When possible, support your comment with substantive data, facts, and/or expert opinions. You may also provide personal experience in your comment, as may be appropriate. By supporting your arguments well you are more likely to influence the agency decision making.
- Consider including examples of how the proposed rule would impact you negatively or positively.
- Comments on the economic effects of rules that include quantitative and qualitative data are especially helpful.
- Include the pros and cons and trade-offs of your position and explain them. Your position could consider other points of view, and respond to them with facts and sound reasoning.
- If you are uploading more than one attachment to a comment web form, it is recommend that you use the following file titles, as this standardized file naming convention will help agency reviewers distinguish your submitted attachments and aid in the comment review process:
- Attachment1_<insert title of document>
- Attachment2_<insert title of document>
- Attachment3_<insert title of document>
- Keep a copy of your comment in a separate file. This practice helps ensure that you will not lose your comment if you have a problem submitting it using a web form; further, it may come in handy if you wanted to read your written comment at a public hearing or when meeting with agency staff.
- If you are making a public comment at a hearing, be sure to be aware of any time limitations (usually 3 minutes) and practice beforehand so that you don’t run out of time.
After submission, your comment will be processed and in some cases, may be posted publicly. At times, an agency may choose not to post a submitted comment. Reasons for not posting the comment can include:
- The comment is part of a mass submission campaign or is a duplicate.
- The comment is incomplete.
- The comment is not related to the regulation.
- The comment has been identified as spam.
- The comment contains Personally Identifiable Information (PII) data.
- The comment contains profanity or other inappropriate language.
- The submitter requested the comment not be posted.
Organizations often encourage their members to submit form letters designed to address issues common to their membership. Organizations including industry associations, labor unions, and conservation groups sometimes use form letters to voice their opposition or support of a proposed rulemaking, action, or decision. Many in the public mistakenly believe that their submitted form letter constitutes a “vote” regarding the issues concerning them. Although public support or opposition may help guide important public policies, agencies make determinations for a proposed action based on sound reasoning and scientific evidence rather than a majority of votes. A single, well-supported comment may carry more weight than a thousand form letters.
* Throughout this page, the term “Comment” is used in place of the more technically accurate term “Public Submission” in order to make the recommendations easier to read and understand.
The primary purpose of our work is to inform the public.