Hands-on Activity: Pollution Politics

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Photo shows the steps leading up to the white, domed Capitol building.
The Capitol in Washington, DC.
copyright
Copyright © U.S. Environmental Protection Agency http://www.epa.gov/sab/sge_course/1.htm.

Summary

Students learn how a bill becomes law in the U.S. Congress and research legislation related to global warming.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Environmental engineers often educate and advise the US Congress, the public and government institutions about the consequences of our industrial and manufacturing processes on human health and the environment. In the case of global warming, engineers use their science and math knowledge to develop arguments, provide evidence and deliver a strong message as they advocate for industrial guidelines and laws so that action is taken to require the reduction of air, water and soil pollution.

Pre-Req Knowledge

Familiarity with the greenhouse effect, and the topics of global warming and air pollution emissions allowance trading.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Explain how a bill becomes law in the U.S. Congress and research legislation related to global warming.
  • Incorporate source materials into their speaking and writing (for example, interviews, news articles, encyclopedia information).
  • Write and speak in the content areas accurately using the technical vocabulary of the subject.
  • Read, respond to and discuss literature that represents points-of-view from places, people and events that are familiar and unfamiliar.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Economic, political, and cultural issues are influenced by the development and use of technology. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Interpret and analyze data about changes in environmental conditions – such as climate change – and populations that support a claim describing why a specific population might be increasing or decreasing (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Introduction/Motivation

You have been learning that air pollution does not respect human-made boundaries. Winds carry pollutants far from their points of origin. Without environmental legislation, it is unlikely much could be done, for example, about the effects of acid rain in locations in which the source of the pollution is far from the location of its impacts. Global warming is another especially challenging problem with more than one cause, and potential impact on everyone on Earth.

Today, you will learn how U.S. legislators — Senators and members of the House of Representatives — go about making environmental laws. You will first need to understand the basics of how a bill becomes law. Then you will study recent examples of proposed environmental legislation in summary form. Finally, you will write and present your own summary of an environmental bill that you think should be proposed to a legislature.

Vocabulary/Definitions

abstract: A statement summarizing the important points of a text.

bill: A draft of a proposed law presented for approval to a legislative body.

filibuster: A tactic for delaying or obstructing legislation by making long speeches.

legislator: A person who creates or enacts laws, especially a member of a legislative body.

propose: To put forward for consideration, discussion or adoption. Suggest: propose a change in the law.

veto: The power or constitutional right of one branch or department of government to refuse approval of measures proposed by another department, especially the power of a chief executive (president) to reject a bill passed by the legislature and thus prevent or delay its enactment into law.

Procedure

Background

As students have been learning, pollution crosses boundaries. Understanding how environmental law works is integral to understanding the effort to control pollution. This activity focuses on global warming legislation to illustrate how a bill becomes law. The activity is based on the How a Bill Becomes a Law, online lesson prepared by the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives (see http://kids.clerk.house.gov/).

Working in pairs, students gain an understanding of the U.S. legislative process by visiting and reading the excellent How a Bill Becomes a Law website. You may want to have the students make a flow diagram (see the Activity Extensions section) at this point. Next, they examine existing legislation using the search capabilities of Thomas (https://www.congress.gov/), and read a summary of a global warming bill, S.193, Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, as a pertinent example (the bill summary is also available as an attachment). Finally, they write their own bills and share them with the class.

Observing and Research

  1. Your first task is to learn how a bill becomes a law. On the Internet, go to the Kids in the House website (http://kids.clerk.house.gov/) and search for "How a Bill Becomes a Law." Read through the steps and be ready to discuss the process in class. If your teacher requests, or if it helps you understand the material, prepare a flow diagram of the process (see the Activity Extensions section).
  2. Next, look at the summary of the Climate Stewardship Act, Senate Bill S.139. (See the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 Reading attachment, which contains the main text of the summary, or locate it online by searching the Thomas site where all legislation is filed. Click on https://www.congress.gov/. Type the bill number or title in the search box. For the summary of the bill, click on "Link to the Bill Summary & Status file." For the complete text of the bill, click on "GPOs PDF Display" or "Printer Friendly Display.")
  3. Read the title and summary of bill S.139 and notice how it is formatted. You will use this same format when you compose your summary. Notice that the "title" is a summary of a summary; it serves as a kind of abstract. Some of the language in the summary is technical. Don't let that put you off. Notice the action verbs at the beginning of each new paragraph. They help you understand the point of each paragraph. Since November 2003, what has happened to this bill? What is its current status? (Investigate at Thomas, https://www.congress.gov/.)
  4. Lead a class discussion. Ask the students:
  • Do you think that Senators and Representatives have a lot of reading to do?
  • How do you identify a bill that has originated in the House of Representatives? In the Senate?
  • What is a committee? Summarize a committee's role in the legislative process in a few sentences.
  • What is the difference between how the Senate and the House handle time limits for a debate?
  • If the President decides to take no action on an enrolled bill, what happens to that bill? Why do you think the President would choose to take such an action?
  • Did you find the steps on How a Bill Becomes a Law to be complete? Why or why not? What other information would you like to know about how laws are made?
  1. Continue the class discussion: Many citizens pay close attention to the actions of the Senators and Representatives. Ask the students: What is your opinion of bill S.139? Share and discuss with the students a portion of an editorial (see below) titled, "Promising Vote on Global Warming," in the November 1, 2003 issue of the New York Times, commenting on the Thursday, October 30, Senate rejection of S.139 by a margin of 55 to 43. Ask the students: What is the current status of bill S.139?

The outcome was heartening on several levels. Mr. McCain and Mr. Lieberman are now within striking distance of a majority. This reflects not only lobbying from environmental groups but a growing realization among governors, mayors and businesses large and small that the long-term costs of climate change could be far greater than the costs of bringing it under control. The bill also found surprising support among democrats and republicans from big industrial and coal-producing states, where opposition to any legislation having to do with curbing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases usually runs high.

(Source of New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/01/opinion/01SAT2.html?ex=1068267600&en=0536ba8d486a299a&ei=5062&partner=GOOGLE)

Thinking

You learned about allowance trading in the literacy activity for Air Pollution unit, Lesson 6. The solution being proposed in S.139 should sound familiar: "to accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by establishing a market-driven system of greenhouse gas tradable allowances." In the case of the acid rain legislation, the allowances being traded were for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. What greenhouse gas emissions is the focus of the S.139 legislation? (Answer: Carbon dioxide.)

Writing

Think of an environmental problem you feel concerned about. It does not have to be a major national or international problem. For the purposes of this activity it can be a local problem, perhaps an issue that affects your neighborhood, school or town. Propose a legislative solution for the problem in the form of a bill to be submitted to a legislative body. It could be your state government, city council or even your student government, but format your bill according to the model you have just studied. (Students at this grade level are not expected to write a simulation of an entire bill, which in the case of the Climate Stewardship Act extends to 58 pages!)

Refer to the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 Reading for the bill format and components. Include the Title (abstract), Sponsor (you), and Co-sponsors (if you are working with other students as a team). Write something appropriate for Latest Major Action and Status. In the Summary, provide the date "introduced" and begin your paragraphs with action verbs indicating the actions you propose be taken when the bill becomes law.

After student teams have presented their bills to the rest of the class, hold a class discussion. Ask the students: To what legislative body would you submit your bill? Why do you think your bill is important? Would everyone agree to pass your bill? Who would? Who would not?

Attachments

Troubleshooting Tips

Links to news articles can quickly become outdated. If any of the links in the References section are no longer available, find current articles by conducting a keyword search on "global warming" or other relevant keyword, at http://www.google.com under the "News" tab.

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Use call-out questions or a quiz to reinforce students' understanding of the greenhouse effect, the global warming theory and air pollution emissions allowance trading introduced or refreshed in the introduction.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Use call-out questions or a pop quiz during the Observing and Thinking discussions (in the Procedure section) to reinforce vocabulary and understanding.

Post-Activity Assessment

Assess students on how well they follow the format for their summary of proposed legislation, including their use of action verbs.

Activity Extensions

Make a flow diagram (a graphic that uses arrows and other symbols to represent how a process flows) that shows the steps a bill must go through to become a law. Illustrate each step with cartoons or other graphic symbols.

Encourage students to monitor progress on S.139 and other legislative bills related to global warming by checking the Thomas site (https://www.congress.gov/) periodically.

Activity Scaling

  • Depending on the abilities of the students, adjust the written summary of proposed legislation to be an individual, team or class project.
  • For older students, have them complete the attached Kids in the House Legislation Ditto as they independently research how a bill becomes a law at the Kids in the House website (see http://kids.clerk.house.gov/).

References

Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Accessed July 18, 2004. (Source of vocabulary definitions, with some adaptation) http://www.dictionary.com

I'm Just a Bill. Schoolhouse Rock. Accessed July 24, 2004. (The title of this activity comes from this classic Emmy-award-winning series. Three-minute Schoolhouse Rock animated segments play Saturday mornings on ABC.) http://www.school-house-rock.com/Bill.html

Kids in the House. The Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. Accessed December 21, 2011. http://kids.clerk.house.gov/

National Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Act of 2003, H.R.1245, Bill Summary and Status for the 108th Congress. Updated March 12, 2003. THOMAS - U.S. Congress Legislative Information on the Internet, The Library of Congress. Accessed July 24, 2004. (Follow the same procedure as for finding the Climate Stewardship Act from THOMAS.) http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d108:HR01245:@@@L&summ2=m&

Thomas - U.S. Congress Legislative Information on the Internet. The Library of Congress. Accessed July 24, 2004. (To find a bill or law, such as the Climate Stewardship Act, S.139, type the bill number or title in the search box. For the summary of the bill, click on "Link to the Bill Summary & Status file." For the complete text of the bill, click on "GPO's PDF version of this bill" or "Printer Friendly Display." Or, type in the search term "global warming" to find other relevant legislation.) http://thomas.loc.gov/

U.S. House of Representatives. Accessed July 24, 2004. http://www.house.gov/

U.S. Senate. Accessed July 24, 2004. http://www.senate.gov/

Contributors

Jane Evenson; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Denise W. Carlson

Copyright

© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Acknowledgements

The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation (GK-12 grant no. 0338326). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: August 8, 2018

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