NCEL's Year in Review - 2021

December 20, 2021



NCEL Point of Contact

Taylor Anderson
Communications Director


States Remained Dedicated to Strong Environmental Action In 2021.

As the United States addressed the ongoing hardships from the COVID-19 pandemic this year, state legislatures continued to pass groundbreaking policies to combat climate change, conserve natural resources, and improve environmental health. Below is a brief recap of the work done by the NCEL network to advance bold and equitable environmental legislation this past year. 

2021 At A Glance


  • Throughout the year, NCEL hosted a total of 73 virtual regional and issue-specific events. NCEL also hosted three in-person events including a tour of the upper Mississippi River for legislators to learn about ways to improve river health, and policy bootcamps in Washington, D.C. in preparation for the 2022 legislative sessions. 
  • This was the first year NCEL attended the U.N.’s Climate Change Conference (COP). We brought a delegation of state legislators to Glasgow, Scotland who participated in six events concerning the ways states are leading on climate action. Additionally, in the days leading up to COP26, 537 legislators from 47 states and territories signed a letter urging President Biden to commit to full U.S. decarbonization by 2050 at the conference, with legislators in 17 states publishing op-eds in support of the effort.

NCEL Network

  • NCEL continued to engage our 10 issue-based working groups, including the new Coastal Working Group which is composed of legislators from 18 coastal states dedicated to advancing ocean-based climate solutions and resilience strategies. Other working groups bring legislators together around topics such as plastic pollution, outdoor engagement, bold decarbonization, and environmental justice.

Legislative Successes 

A diverse range of groundbreaking environmental bills were enacted in statehouses across the country this year. Some of the issue areas with the highest volume of bills enacted included low-carbon transportation (12 states and DC enacted bills), zero-waste initiatives (12 states enacted bills), and improved outdoor engagement (11 states enacted bills). For more on this year’s major state legislative victories, explore our 2021 Session Recap. 

National Forum

On July 29 and 30, NCEL hosted our annual National Forum virtually which brought together more than 190 legislators from 39 states to learn and collaborate on policy solutions related to climate, energy, conservation, and environmental health. This year’s forum focused on ensuring equitable and environmentally-minded pandemic recoveries, with a special keynote address from EPA Administrator Michael Regan on the importance of state-federal partnerships in environmental stewardship. 

During the event, NCEL presented the annual Rising Environmental Leader, Environmental Achievement, and the new Environmental Activism Award to nine state legislators.

This year’s Rising Environmental Leaders are Nevada State Assemblymember Howard Watts, Minnesota State Representative Kaohly Her, Georgia State Senator Sheikh Rahman, and Maryland State Delegate Sara Love. The award recognizes exceptional environmental leadership in first- and second-term legislators. 

The recipients of the Leon G. Billings Environmental Achievement Award were Colorado State Representative Dominique Jackson, Washington State Representative Joe Fitzgibbon, Washington Senator Reuven Carlyle, and Minnesota Senator David Senjem. Named after NCEL’s founder, the award celebrates legislators that have shown a continued commitment to environmental success and impact throughout their careers.

NCEL created the Renny Cushing Environmental Activism Award this year to recognize leaders who persevere against the odds in the fight for the environment, equity, and justice. The award was presented to New Hampshire State Representative Renny Cushing for his lifetime of environmental advocacy. 

Continuing the Momentum in 2022!

Thank you for all your hard work and support this year! 

If 2021 was an indicator for the success to come for environmental protection, we cannot wait to see what state legislators can accomplish in 2022! As always, please do not hesitate to contact us if we can assist with your legislative efforts.

Stay tuned in early 2022 for a preview of what we see as the trending policies for the new year.

Please consider becoming one of our Sustaining Members with a monthly contribution of $15. You can also make a one-time donation. Your tax-deductible donations help provide crucial support to legislators across the country working to pass strong environmental policies.