From the classroom to Congress: Oregon Law students in DC

First published in Around the O on January 15, 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.


Over the last year, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis of the US House of Representatives has received recommendations from young climate leaders, policy specialists, business leaders, and state and local officials at meetings and hearings held in Washington, DC and around the country.

The Oregon Law students submitted their policy reports with recommendations to the House Select Committee during a November 2019 trip to Washington, DC.

University of Oregon alumna and US Representative Suzanne Bonamici, BA '80 JD '83, who is a member of the committee, says they hope to produce bold, tangible policy recommendations to address climate change and reach net-zero emissions.

“I am eager to include the perspectives of Oregonians in our work to address this critical issue, which threatens our planet but also presents an opportunity for transformative leadership,” Bonamici said. “As an alumna of the University of Oregon School of Law, I am grateful that students are engaged in producing thoughtful recommendations for our Committee on port electrification, urban forestry, zero emission vehicles, and labor standards.”

Student report summaries:

Policy Options for Attaching Labor Standards to Employment in the Clean Energy Technology Sector

National Zero Emission Vehicle Program

United States Port Electricification

Urban Forestry in the United States and Policy Recommendations for Increasing Tree Growth in Urban Areas


Prior to coming to Oregon Law, Assistant Professor Greg Dotson, JD ’95, worked in Washington, DC for two decades. During that time, he worked as a key energy and environment congressional staffer and subsequently at a leading policy think tank. His work focused on environmental protection and policies to address the challenge of climate change. Now, he teaches Oregon Law students to do the same through the Environmental Policy Practicum Course.

Created by Dotson in 2017, the popular course attracts law students who are interested in public policy and environmental law. Dotson mentors the group of students and introduces them to the inner workings of the Oregon State Capitol and Washington, DC. He also uses his connections in both Oregon and DC to show students that there are significant professional opportunities in the policymaking world.

“Policymaking utilizes many skills students learn in law school, such as legal research and advocacy,” said Dotson. “This course draws on these skills and also provides a structured approach for learning about and engaging in this policymaking world for the purpose of gaining practical and marketable experience.”

By addressing a policy challenge like climate change in particular, Dotson says that Oregon Law students use multi-disciplinary skills, such as practical application of political science, economics, public administration and any number of other subject matter disciplines.

Connor Harrington, LLM '20, who was part of the port electrification work group, says that the course helped prepare him to engage in thoughtful dialogue on environmental issues at many layers of government and the private sector as well.

“This experience broadened my career ambitions and affirmed that environmental protection advocacy is an important and much needed pursuit,” said Harrington.

Harrington plans to use the experience to deepen his current work for cleaner transportation at the state level.


Oregon Law’s Environmental Policy Practicum came from the passion that Assistant Professor Greg Dotson has for environmental law. Dotson knew that this type of experience would help prepare students to truly be a part of the policymaking process at all levels of government.

Over the past three years, practicum partners have included local and state agencies, federal and state legislative committees and environmental groups.

The practicum is not the only project on Dotson’s schedule. He teaches Climate Change Law and Policy and is the lead-faculty member on the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center’s Energy Law and Policy Project (ELPP). This inter-disciplinary research project allows law fellows to explore innovative law and policy to promote a clean energy future.

Two of Dotson’s most recent publications include: State Authority to Regulate Mobile Source Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Part 1: History and Current Challenge and The Carbon Tax Vote You've Never Heard of and What It Portends.


Currently four of the seven elected officials from Oregon are Ducks. These alumni serve on several committees which are integral to the work of Congress in determining the policy needs of the nation and acting on them.

Sen. Ron Wyden, JD ’74
Wyden is the senior United States Senator for Oregon and has served since 1996. He was previously the representative for Oregon’s 3rd congressional district as a Democrat from 1981 to 1996. Wyden is next up for reelection in 2022.
Committees: Finance (Ranking Member), Energy and Natural Resources, Budget, Select Committee on Intelligence and the Joint Committee on Taxation (Leading Senate Democrat)

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, BA ’80, JD ‘83
Bonamici is the representative for Oregon’s 1st congressional district. The district includes Washington, Yamhill, Clatsop, and Columbia counties and part of Multnomah County. She has served since Feb 7, 2012. Bonamici is next up for reelection in 2020.
Committees: Education and Labor (Chair of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services), Science, Space, and Technology and Select Committee on the Climate Crisis

Rep. Peter DeFazio, MA '77
DeFazio is the representative for Oregon’s 4th congressional district. The district includes Benton, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Josephine, Lane, and Linn counties. He was first elected to the US Congress in 1986 and is now the longest serving House member in Oregon’s history. DeFazio is next up for reelection in 2020.
Committee: House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee (Chair)

Rep. Greg Walden, BS ‘81
Walden is the representative for Oregon’s 2nd congressional district, which includes 20 counties in central, southern, and eastern Oregon. He has served since 1999 and has announced that he is retiring and will not run for re-election in 2020. 
Committee: Energy and Commerce (Republican Leader)