Do all citizens have a right to a hospitable climate? Can legislation be passed to mitigate the consequences of greenhouse gases? How do regulations (or deregulations) have the power to promote sustainable practices and curb emissions or do the reverse? Are high-emitting corporations liable for climate-related damages? Where does the judicial system come into play? Climate change has pushed these questions to the forefront of our national conversation. They all highlight the integral role of our government in confronting climate change and the critical need for policies.

As a nation we have three branches of government with separate but interrelated responsibilities. This “separation of powers” was intended to prevent one governmental body from gaining too much power and becoming autocratic.

Our federal laws are created by Congress (the legislative branch) which is comprised of the Senate (2 Senators from every state) and the House (there are currently 435 representatives, a number fixed by law since 1911, representing each state in proportion to the size of the state’s population).

The laws, once passed by both House and Senate and signed into law by the President, are carried out by the executive branch, which also has the power to regulate and deregulate, as well as to issue executive orders. The President, supported by the Vice President, department heads (cabinet members), and heads of independent agencies such as the EPA make up the executive branch.

The third branch is the judicial system wherein the courts retain responsibility for interpreting the laws that have been passed by the legislative branch and enforced by the executive branch. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States.