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Understanding the Structure of the Code of Federal Regulations

Understanding the Structure of the Code of Federal Regulations

You may have heard of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) or the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act.  These Acts passed by Congress and signed by the President typically contain broad outlines of what the government wishes to accomplish.  Acts such as these empower Federal agencies like the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Labor, or the US Department of Transportation to turn the broad goals of the Act into specific regulations or rules which have the force of law.  The regulations of these three agencies and many others of general applicability to the public with current and future effect are published in the Federal Register for review and comments prior to being codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

The CFR is organized into 50 titles according to broad subject matter categories, such as:  Labor (29), Environment (40), and Transportation (49).  These three titles, especially, should be familiar to manufacturing and transportation-related businesses in the US, as they are the source for most of the regulatory compliance issues they face.  Finding the exact regulatory citation you need can be a challenge.  It can be even harder if you don’t know the structure of the CFR and how the regulations are arranged.  This article is meant to change that.  A comforting fact is that except for titles 3, 41, & 48 the CFR has a uniform numbering system, so what you learn here should apply in most cases.  Here, in descending order, is the organizational system of the CFR.

Title – as mentioned above, this represents a broad subject area of regulations.  Title 40 of the CFR – or 40 CFR – contains all of the regulations of the US EPA.  49 CFR, the regulations of the Department of Transportation, and so on.

Subtitle – if used at all – title 40 doesn’t – separates the administrative rules of the agency itself (usually in Subtitle A) from the regulations it is responsible for (usually in Subtitle B).

Chapter – contains the rules of the issuing agency and usually bears its name (ie. the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Department of Transportation).

Subchapter – a further refinement of the chapter, if necessary.

Part – contains rules on a single program or function.

Subpart – a further refinement of the part, if necessary.

Section – is the basic unit of the CFR (ie. 40 CFR 262.34).  It typically contains one provision of program/function rules.  A section may contain up to six – yeah, that’s right, six – levels of paragraphs depending on the complexity of the regulations.  It gives me some comfort to know that the agencies arerecommended to use no more than three levels of paragraphs in one section.  The six levels of paragraphs in a section would look like this.

  • Level 1 (aka. Paragraph) Displayed in the CFR as: (a), (b), (c), etc.
  • Level 2 (aka. Subparagraph) Displayed in the CFR as: (1), (2), (3), etc.
  • Level 3 (aka. Sub-subparagraph) Displayed in the CFR as: (i), (ii), (iii), etc.
  • Level 4 Displayed in the CFR as: (A), (B), (C), etc.
  • Level 5 Displayed in the CFR as: (1), (2), (3), etc.
  • Level 6 Displayed in the CFR as: (i), (ii), (iii), etc.

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You may observe the word Reserved used throughout the CFR in place of the above headings, in these cases an agency is using Reserved as a placeholder to indicate that it may insert regulations into this location sometime in the future or to indicate that a portion of the CFR was intentionally left empty.

Titles are completely revised and reissued once each year on a staggered schedule:

  • Titles 1-16       Updated as of January 1
  • Titles 17-27     Updated as of April 1
  • Titles 28-41     Updated as of July 1
  • Titles 42-50     Updated as of October 1

If you are subject to any federal regulations I advise to obtain access to the Code of Federal Regulations for yourself.  It is a must for anyone who manages EHS compliance in manufacturing, transportation, or any commercial entity.  Access can be gained in a few different ways:

  • There are commercial services that can provide you with online access to all or portions of the CFR as you require.  Though not without cost, these services can be very valuable as they allow you to bookmark frequently used regulations and also contain hyperlinks to follow along when one regulation references another.  Though there are others out there, the one I am familiar with and recommend is CyberRegs.
  • An on-line version of the CFR is available for free from the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School.
  • Hardcopies can be purchased from the Government Publishing Office.
  • The GPO also provides a free on-line version of the CFR: eCFR

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Gaining access to the regulations of the USEPA and the USDOT is a good first step.   Assembling an understanding of how the regulations apply to your operations is a bit more complicated and can be intimidating.  Attendance at one of my training events will help you to understand which of the regulations apply to your operations, which you need to pay very close attention to, and where you may find exceptions from full regulation.  On-site training goes further and will explain state regulations as well that apply to your generation of hazardous waste and transportation of hazardous materials.