Implementation of the Noise Control Act

  • Recommendation number: 92-6
  • Adopted on: June 19, 1992
  • Publication Date: June 19, 1992
  • Tags: Congress

In 1981, Congress agreed to the Administration’s proposal to cease funding for the Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Congress, however, did not repeal the Noise Control Act1 when it eliminated ONAC’s funding.

Before the elimination of ONAC, EPA engaged in a wide variety of activities to abate noise pollution under authority of the Noise Control Act and, after 1978, the Quiet Communities Act.2 These included identifying sources of noise for regulation, promulgating noise emission standards, coordinating federal noise research and noise abatement, working with industry and international, state and local regulators to develop consensus standards, disseminating information and educational materials, and sponsoring research concerning the effects of noise and the methods by which it can be abated. The Quiet Communities Act authorized EPA to provide grants to state and local governments for noise abatement.

EPA ceased virtually all noise abatement activities after ONAC’s funding was eliminated. However, the federal noise emission and labeling standards it had promulgated have remained in effect, thereby preempting state and local governments from adopting different standards. Thus, the standards remain frozen, as neither the EPA nor the state or local agencies have been in a position to amend or update possibly outmoded standards despite the technological developments of the last decade. Moreover, some private rights to bring tort or other actions may be affected by these EPA emission and labeling standards.

The Conference recognizes that the decision to end funding was substantive rather than procedural, but, in part, the impact has been procedural.3 No procedure has been available for a decade to reexamine the existing preemptive standards to take into account developments in science and technology that may bear on implementation of the legislative intent. Elimination of funding for the agency’s noise control program has had the additional procedural effect of leaving several proposed but unissued standards pending for a decade without final action by EPA.

EPA retains the statutory responsibility for enforcing the Noise Control Act, and has used minimal resources for engaging in limited enforcement and other related activities.4 Pursuant to this authority, EPA has asked the Conference to assist it in reevaluating the current status of the Noise Control Act by recommending options that relate to procedural considerations. The Conference takes no position concerning what actions, if any, EPA should take regarding enforcement and implementation of the Noise Control Act. If EPA wishes to assess the current situation, however, the Conference has identified considerations that should be part of such reassessment.

The Conference is unaware of any other instance where Congress has eliminated the funding for an ongoing program that preempts state and local actions without also ending the statutory authorization for that program or addressing the preemptive effect of existing regulations. If this situation does exist in other contexts, there may be procedural problems similar to those associated with the Noise Control Act.




1. In considering its authority and responsibility under the Noise Control Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should analyze the preemptive impact of its existing and pending noise standards for the purpose of eliminating, where possible, any unintended impacts. EPA should then advise the appropriate congressional committees respecting the preemptive effects of EPA’s possibly outmoded regulations under the Noise Control Act,5 or any other implications of the cessation of funding respecting the agency’s responsibilities under the Act.

2. In making the determinations called for under this recommendation, EPA should take into account, among other considerations:

(a) The scientific and technological developments that have occurred since 1981;

(b) Whether there is a need to update EPA’s past methodology for measuring and assessing the effects of noise;

(c) The appropriate allocation of responsibility among federal agencies, and between the federal government and the states and localities, in accomplishing any goals determined by Congress respecting regulation of noise, educating the public on the dangers posed by noise, and sponsoring research into noise effects and abatement techniques;

(d) Whether there is a need for additional coordination of the noise abatement activities of federal agencies and the states and localities;

(e) The adequacy of current coordination between the United States and foreign government agencies concerning noise abatement standards and regulations impacting U.S. international trade;6

(f) Any appropriate federal government participation in the activities of private-sector standard-setting organizations concerning noise;7 and

(g) The relative advantages and disadvantages of utilizing public education, market    incentives, emission standards, or other approaches for any abatement of noise that Congress may wish to pursue.

3. After reviewing whatever advice may be received from EPA under this recommendation, the appropriate congressional committees should review the issues raised by the foregoing recommendations, including whether the continuation of substantive regulatory requirements without funding, or EPA’s inability to reexamine, modify, or rescind those requirements, creates undue procedural burdens upon industry, the states, and the public. Congress should then either repeal the Noise Control Act or fund whatever responsibilities under the Act Congress delegates to EPA.



57 FR 30110 (July 8, 1992)

1992 ACUS 25 (vol 1)

1 42 U.S.C. 4901-4918 (1988).

2 42 U.S.C. 4913 (1988).

3 Although Congress eliminated funding for the Noise Control Act after ONAC had adopted some preemptive regulations and proposed others, it did not repeal the Noise Control Act. This situation is different from the more common circumstance where Congress passes legislation but does not fund its implementation.

4Since 1981, EPA has engaged only in very limited enforcement of existing noise regulations, disseminating information created during ONAC’s existence, and commenting on environmental impact statements issued by the Federal Aviation Administration concerning airport noise. The FAA has independent authority to abate airport noise under the Noise Control Act and the Aviation Noise and Capacity Act.  Public Law No. 101-508, sections9301-09 (1990). Responsibility for the enforcement of EPA’s railroad and motor carrier emission standards is located in the Department of Transportation, which ‘has funding for this purpose. The Department, however, does not have authority to promulgate new or amended emission standards different from those adopted by EPA.

5 See Conference Recommendation 84-5, “Preemption of State Regulation by Federal Agencies,” 1 CFR 305.84-5.

6 See Conference Recommendation 91-1, “Federal Agency Cooperation with Foreign Government Regulators,” 1 CFR 305.91-1.

7 See Conference Recommendation 78-4, “Federal Agency Interaction with Private Standard-Setting Organizations in Health and Safety Regulations,” 1 CFR 305.78-4.


Shapiro, Sidney A.  The Dormant Noise Control Act and Options to Abate Noise Pollution:  With a Technical Appendix on Noise and its Effects by Alice H. Suter.  1992 ACUS 427.