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Table of Contents

The Planet

The Planet
September 1998 Volume 5, Number 7


Contact and Background Information

Legislative Branch

A bill - either a proposal for a law or an amendment to a law - can originate in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. After a bill is introduced, it gets referred to a committee, where a few members debate the bill and tweak it around. Bills that would pass if they came to a vote can get trapped indefinitely there. Then, if it passes out of committee, everyone gets to vote on it in a floor vote. If it passes, it heads over to the other house where legislators can vote on it or amend it. If it is amended, the bill goes back to the house it originated in to be voted on again; if the amendments are complicated, the bill goes into conference where the differences are hammered out. When both the Senate and the House finally agree on the same version of a bill (both houses must pass identical bills) it's sent to the president who signs it into law or vetoes it. Congress can overrule a presidential veto by a 2/3 vote.

Contact Information

Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-3121
Answers to: Voters.The 100 members are elected by the people to six-year terms.One third of the senators are up for election every two years. You have two senators representing you.
Main Function: The Senate makes laws and advises and consents to treaties and presidential nominations. Both the Senate and the House oversee federal agencies' implementation of the law, and appropriate money to fund the government.

house of representatives
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 224-3121
Answers to:
Voters. The 435 members are elected to two--year terms. All 435 face the voters every two years. You have one representative.
Main Function:
Members of the House of Representatives make laws. Most laws originate with the members, but constituents can also give a proposal for a law to a member. The president, executive departments and independent agencies can also give drafts of a bill to members.

judicial branch

The federal courts are broken into three levels: Supreme Court, U.S. Courts of Appeal, and District Courts. Federal cases start in the 94 U.S. District Courts. About 80 cases a year of "great national importance" are heard by the Supreme Court. This branch of government does not technically make law, but consider the following quote from the New York Times: "While the Court's most noted role is to interpret . . . the Constitution, about two-thirds of the docket consists of statutory cases. In deciding these, the Court routinely engages in what might be described as making law."

Contact Information

the court system
Answers to: Federal court judges are appointed by the president, with approval from the Senate, for life terms.
Main Function: Federal courts try cases pertaining to federal laws and serve as a safeguard against bad court decisions in state courts. Courts cannot make laws, which is the function of the legislative branch, or execute laws, which is the function of the executive branch.

executive branch

Agencies make the rules. A rule or regulation is basically an interpretation of a law that's been passed by Congress (which has neither the time nor expertise to worry about logging and replanting standards in a particular forest, or how much of a particular chemical should be allowed in the groundwater).
A rule that an agency is proposing must be printed in the Federal Register (available at any library), and the agency must then accept public comment on the rule, which it might revise as a result. There are dozens and dozens of federal agencies, but the Club doesn't regularly deal with all of them. For example, the global warming volunteers and staff might focus on the Department of Transportation, which oversees miles-per-gallon standards, while wetlands activists deal primarily with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Agencies aren't directly accountable to voters the way elected officials are, but Congress can cut an agency's funding if it doesn't like what it's doing, so your voice still matters. The president appoints the heads of the agencies, so you've got a little pull there, too. Agencies' decisions have far-reaching consequences, so your involvement is crucial.

Contact Information

President Bill Clinton
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20500
(202) 456-1111
Answers to:
Main Function:
He has the power to veto bills, and he appoints the top brass of most federal agencies. He has broad powers to issue executive orders and direct federal agencies to take actions within their authority. For example, if he wants to, he can protect land by designating it a national monument, as he did with Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.

(Independent Agency)
environmental protection agency
Administrator Carol Browner
401 M St., S.W.
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 260-2090
Main Function:
Two of the agency's self-declared goals are pollution prevention and regulation enforcement.
This agency is the pollution "cop," enforcing our clean water, clean air and toxic-waste laws on the national level. When the EPA fails to perform its required enforcement role, public interest groups sometimes use the courts to force agency action.

(Department of Agriculture)
forest service
Chief Mike Dombeck
Auditors Building
201 14th St. and Independence Ave.
Washington, DC 20250
(202) 205-1661
Main Function:
Often under fire for allowing excess logging, the Forest Service is charged with balancing the demands of the timber industry and the needs of wildlife and recreation. Every 10 years, the Forest Service revises the plan for the entire system and for each national forest. The plans cover logging, recreational use, fish and wildlife resources, grazing, and fuel and mineral extraction. You can contact the Forest Service to get a copy of the plan for a particular forest and to get involved in its revision.

(Department of the Interior)
fish and wildlife service
Director Jamie Rappaport Clark
1849 C St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20240
(202) 208-4717
Main Function:
FWS is responsible for managing a system of natural wildlife refuges that are havens, especially for migratory birds. It is also held responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Endangered Species Act. That FWS claims to be dedicated to "achieving a national net gain of fish and wildlife" makes it a good ally of the environmental movement.

(Department of Defense)
army corps of engineers
Lt. Gen. Joe N. Ballard
20 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20314
(202) 761-0001
Main Function:
The Corps provides engineering support for military operations, but in the civil realm it has overseen the destruction of tens of thousands of acres of the nation's wetlands. The Corps all too freely issues permits to people who want to drain or develop wetlands, and many of our nation's free-flowing waters have fallen victim to the agency's zeal for building dams.

(Department of the Interior)
national park service
Director Robert Stanton
1849 C St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240
(202) 208-4747
Main Function: The park service oversees national parks, national historic sites and national monuments. This agency interprets the land and history to the public; it also acts as steward for the system. When private lands are purchased, the funds come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Adding new park system units usually requires an act of Congress.

(Department of the Interior)
bureau of land management
Director Patrick Shea
1849 C St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20240
(202) 208-3801
Main Function:
This agency is at times wryly referred to as "Bureau of Livestock and Mining," because of its emphasis on using rather than protecting the 272 million acres of public land it manages. In addition to land that's subject to grazing and mining, BLM oversees millions of acres of wild, undeveloped land, some suitable for wilderness designation.
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