First published in Around the O on January 15th, 2020.
“What is public policy, why does it matter, and how is it made?” Assistant Professor Greg Dotson posed this question to his law students enrolled in the Oregon Law Environmental Policy Practicum.
The ten law students had the entire semester not only to answer those questions, but to present their own research and recommendations to the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in the US House of Representatives in Washington, DC. The House created the committee in January of 2019 and charged it with submitting climate policy recommendations to Congress by March 31, 2020.
In the class, Dotson tries to demystify the policymaking world. He talks about the theoretical underpinnings of policymaking as well as the real-world efforts that result in environmental protection or other desired policy outcomes.
“Crafting public policy can be as much art as science and efforts to change policy often see as much failure as success,” said Dotson. “A well-crafted public policy can promote competition, innovation, efficiency, environmental protection or other desired policy outcomes. It can be transparent and responsive to constituents and can foster faith in the democratic process and our representative form of government.”
Grace Brahler, JD ‘20, who participated in the course, hopes to pursue a career in environmental policy after graduating next Spring. She says that she has always been interested in working for a state or local governmental entity, but this experience made her more open to working at the federal level.
“It was invaluable to see our political institutions in a more personal manner,” Brahler said. “I'm optimistic about the ability to create positive change from within the system after doing so.”
According to House Resolution 6, the Select Committee is to “investigate, study, make findings, and develop recommendations on policies, strategies, and innovations to achieve substantial and permanent reductions in pollution and other activities that contribute to the climate crisis which will honor our responsibility to be good stewards of the planet for future generations.”
The students worked for 10 weeks under the supervision of Dotson to research and draft recommendations to assist the committee in its work.
The class also examined environmental policymaking through academic readings, lectures, guest speakers and discussion of policy case studies. The class explored the practical aspects of engaging in both the legislative process and the administrative rulemaking process. They also explored how to effectively support policy development through analysis and data generation.
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