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LAW610 Prepares Students for Congress

By H.W. Cummins
Adjunct Professor

A recent edition of Politico, a daily newspaper covering politics in Washington, D.C., headlined “Even Congress hates Congress.” The article reported:

“91 per cent of the country believes that the Congress is detached from reality.

Indeed, law-makers themselves aren’t among the 9 percent who approve of their own work.”

In the same article, freshman Rep. Trey Dowdy (R-SC) is quoted as saying “we’re well below sharks and contract killers.”

Congress may hate Congress, the vast majority of citizens may see it as “detached from reality (a nice way of putting it),” addicted to tantrums, and deadlock, but, not so for students taking LAW610: Federal Energy Policy and Congress at the University of Oregon School of Law. Adjunct Professor H. W. Cummins, a retired administrative law judge and attorney who continues to mediate issues arising in the policy areas of energy, environment and human rights, teaches the course. One of the first things he emphasizes in the course is the great danger epithets and name-calling pose to civil dialogue. They may make people feel better, but in the case of the Congress, they cloud the public’s understanding of the vast and deep impact Congressional action (or lack thereof) has on citizens. This is especially the case for Oregonians where the federal government owns 57 percent of the state.

A measure of the impact Congress can have on local communities was documented in a succinct statement by Dennis Richardson, state representative for Oregon’s Fourth District. In his March 16, 2007, newsletter, he noted:

“The loss of federal timber replacement revenues . . . to 33 Oregon counties is both imminent and catastrophic. It is not being melodramatic to say more than one Oregon county faces shutting off their lights, closing their doors, and ceasing to exist by year’s end…”

What the LAW610 students learn is the detail necessary to understand how Congress goes about making policy. Of greatest importance is learning the basics of how to influence that policymaking. This is where the rubber hits the road for prospective employers. It is imperative for law firms to have active, bright young attorneys who know how best to, not only influence policymaking, but how to interpret the results of the process, and in both cases use them in a client’s best interests.

In the course’s four-year history, students have published three white papers in Washington, D.C.’s The Hill newspaper’s White Paper section. The newspaper is published especially for the Congress and covers Congressional action in detail. At 21,000, it has the largest circulation of any Capitol Hill news source. The first LAW 610 white paper published in 2009 was Recommendations for a National Energy Policy for the United States. The paper detailed recommendations necessary for the United States to embrace a true national energy policy (NEP). The 2010 paper expanded on the first with a magnified look at Congressional NEP activity in the 111th Congress. The third paper, in 2011, did the same for the first session of the 112th Congress. The 2012 course will take a hard look at potential policies, problems, and remedies before the 112th’s second session.

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