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Keeping track of current legislation and initiatives can be a very time-consuming and complicated exercise; yet it is essential for all of us - whether campaigners, policy analysts or interested Democrats - to follow this closely.
This page is intended to lay out routes you can follow to chase down what is happening at both federal and state levels on environment and energy security issues. For this, and many other policy areas, keeping track of developments at state level often gives early warning of emerging issues and signs of innovative practice.
Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which focus on the environment and/or energy security issues track current federal and state legislation as well as judicial challenges. The sites that are particularly useful for their routine and systematic coverage are:
The process of passing and enacting legislation
For a reminder of the legislative process and how bills become laws, The Library of Congress -Thomas site provides an explanation of how laws are made; a shorter outline is available through a wikipedia article. Some of you may remember the Schoolhouse Rock classic video I'm Just A Bill, which provides a highly enjoyable summary of how a bill becomes a law. You can watch it here.
With some exceptions, bills on the same subject can orginate in either the Senate or the House (source of appropriation bills) and are therefore assigned names and numbers particular to their origin. Bills then have to be reconciled through Conference and are then re-assigned a title.
Thus, it can become quite complicated to follow through the progress and passage of bills to completion.
For tracking all federal legislation, whether enacted, passed by both the Senate and House or under active consideration, the Library of Congress -Thomas site is a key source.
Alternative routes to use include GovTrack which is an independent, non-partisan, non-commercial website founded in 2004 which offers a user-friendly way to track bills on the basis of topic.
In addition to The Congressional Record, the Daily Digest summarizes committee activities, and provides lists of committee meetings scheduled for that day or the next day, including the topic of the hearing and a list of witnesses. At the end of the legislative week, usually on Friday, the Digest contains a section outlining the ”Congressional Program Ahead” with details of upcoming floor and committee schedules.
For the House, Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, provides a site where details of the progress of key legislation on the floor can be followed. The Clerk of the House also provides a website.
For the Senate, active legislation can be followed by topic. In addition The priorities and policy debates of Democratic Senators and the operation of the Democratic Policy Committee in the Senate are useful to check as well.
To track your representatives in the House and Senate use Votesmart
Key Federal bills relevant to Environment and Energy Security
There are a vast number of bills relevant to these issues introduced in Congress. Here we offer a selection, chosen to represent the range of issues addressed, different approaches to the same issue, as well as those bills which have a very high profile.
To be updated
Recently passed by Congress and awaiting Presidential signing
In Conference - reconciling different versions of the bills
After some last minute parliamentary wrangling in Congress, the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act was finally passed and signed into law (Public Law 111-11) by President Obama on March 30, 2009. This historice bill wraps up several individual public land and waters bills into one gigantic package. The omnibus lands act includes 16 Wilderness bills from nine states: California, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Michigan, Virginia and West Virginia. These bills would protect over two million acres of the Wyoming Range from oil and gas development and over a thousand miles of rivers in California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizonia and Massachusetts as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Public Law 111 -5, also known as the stimulus package. President Obama promised that the stimulus would start us down a greener, more energy effiicient path, and this law starts delivering on those promises. It provides billions of dollars for energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, including a much-needed three-year extension to tax credits for wind energy production. For a discussion of what's included in the law, read this article in Salon and check Nancy Pelosi's highlights of the energy provisions.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-422) requires NASA to pursue a program of research and activities to better understand the Earth system and climate change. The law also mandates that NASA's Administrator take steps to ensure that the public has reliable and accurate access to the results of scientific research on global warming.
The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (Public Law 110-343), AKA the US bank bailout bill, also extended vital renewable energy and energy efficiency tax credits. The extension of these tax credits are extremely important in driving economic growth through and job creation while also moving our nation away from fossil fuels and towards greater usage of renewable energy and energy efficiency. The new law extended the production tax credit for electricity produced from wind energy for one year while the tax credit for electricity production from other renewable energy resources like biomass and geothermal energy was extended for two years. The new law also contained provisions that extended the solar investment tax credit for eight years, a new tax credit for the purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, and the extension of tax credits for investments in energy efficient improvements to existing and new homes. We have an archive of important bills enacted in the previous session of Congress here.
Follow Hearings and Debates in the House and Senate Committees
By consulting the files of the Committees of the House of Representative and Senate you can find details of legislation passed, under debate, as well as records - and in some cases-webcasts of hearings. You can also identify members of the Committees and Subcommmittees for lobbying.
You can also access proceedings on the floor via the general site for the House of Representatives . We have produced a separate page here that provides information on the relevant Committees and Subcommittees, and the links to them, their hearings, markups, publications and webcasts.
To follow legislative developments at the state level, it is useful to check the following sources routinely:
It is also important to check individual state's websites to follow developments. All states now have official working groups, advisory groups, committees or subcommittees devoted to environment and energy issues; many also have a focus on climate change. There are several gateways to state and local government websites, including: The US government official web portal State and Local Government on the Net Capitol Impact Gateway
New State Initiatives
Of particular interest is the California Climate Change Portal because California is often an initiator of legislation that leads the way for other states.
Many of the campaigning groups listed in our Campaigns Organizations have state and local branches and organise campaigns specific to the locality.
One recently developed project, the Blue Green Alliance, is promoting a Jobs 21 campaign linking job creation with innovation and green policies. It is a alliance between the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers. They, in combination with the Institute of Public Health and The Natural Resources Defense Council are launching national and state-based campaigns for Green Jobs for America.
A 2008 September New York Times article discusses the launch of the RGGI (Regional Greenshouse Gas Initiative) cap and trade program for carbon emissions set up by ten Northeastern states. Check here for other regional projects.
There are no current relevant cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. There was considerable interest in the Massachusetts v Environment Protection Agency case before the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2007 - complete ruling here- because of its implications for the recognition of 'carbon dioxide' as an air pollutant under the terms of the Clean Energy Act and also because of the 'standing' of the state of Massachusetts in such a case. There have been a number of recent cases before state courts. It is worth checking your state's website for updated information.
In addition, Warming Law is a blog devoted to following the issue of climate change in the courts - both federal and state. It also has a useful discussion of the Massachusetts v Environment Protection Agency case.
Produced by Elaine Capizzi and Quinn McKew
Checked for updating February 22 2012