When Greg Dotson, a UO law professor, began his work as chief counsel for U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works at the beginning of 2021, the National Guard was still sleeping in the basement and wire barriers surrounded Capitol Building.
It was right after the Jan. 6 insurrection, and the building was still closed after the violent attack on Congress.
Dotson was no stranger to the halls and corridors of Congress. Dotson worked in the House of Representatives for two decades and was the top energy and green staffer on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But it was the most partisan environment he’d seen in all of his years on the Hill.
He was there to address climate change, one of the most controversial issues. The committee he’d be advising has legislative jurisdiction over environmental protection, national climate change policy, and federal programs for investment in infrastructure. Although U.S. Senator Tom Carper is a strong advocate of bipartisanship, Dotson knew that the Senate was split 50-50, making it difficult to pass any meaningful legislation, particularly on climate change.
Dotson reveals that the event took place just over a decade later. During his tenure in the SenateCongress passed bipartisan legislation with historic implications that included new climate- and environmental initiatives.
“There isn’t a bipartisan agreement that we need urgent action on climate change, despite alarm bells from everyone paying attention,” he said. “However, the Senate did come together to enact the most significant infrastructure bill in the history of the country, and that bill contains some important foundational measures for a zero-carbon future.”
Dotson points out the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which President Biden signed into Law in November 2021. The bipartisan legislation contains a number climate, clean energy, and environmental justice components.
One example is funding to support electric vehicle charging infrastructure and electric bus projects. This will help reduce emissions and promote clean-energy vehicles. The new law aims to modernize and invest in infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and climate changes.
It also included investments in environmental justice like clean water programs, pollution cleanup initiatives, and other investments.
Dotson will discuss the infrastructure bill as part of a panel discussion, “Congress and Climate Change,” at 3:30 p.m. May 24 in Room 175, Knight Law Center. Provost Patrick Phillips and Dave Frohnmayer Chairs in Leadership and Law Marcilynn Burke will join him on the panel. PreregistrationIs requested.
Dotson also points out the American Rescue Plan which Congress passed in March 2021. The legislation was primarily concerned with the economic and public health effects of the pandemic. However, it also included some key environmental initiatives like funding for environmental justice, and programs to address the disparate consequences of climate change, and pollution on low-income neighborhoods.
“We can’t afford to wait on climate change,” Dotson said. “Congress has taken a good step forward, but really, we need much more significant action to address the climate crisis.”
Dotson’s role on the committee was an important one. As chief counsel, he advised the committee on climate policy and also helped to navigate the parliamentary process in order to determine options for advancing legislation through a polarized Senate. For example, budgetary rules can be used to advance climate change solutions. They can be passed with a simple majority in Senate rather than requiring a filibusterproof majority of 60 votes.
This approach was used by the committee with the Build Back better Act, a budgetary bill which includes $500 billion to combat climate change. Although the bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives with just 50 votes, it has been stalled in Senate.
“Polarization over climate change is a powerful obstacle,” Dotson said. “Every elected official should want to avoid the disastrous effects of unmitigated climate change, but until they do, what is possible legislatively is really defined by the application of arcane Senate rules.”
Dotson is now back on campus, where he’ll continue to focus on addressing climate change through his research and teaching. Dotson is a faculty member at the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center where he heads the Energy Law and Policy Project.
—University Communications, Emily Halnon