A Tribute to Joe Feller

by Robert Glicksman

April 16, 2013

Last week, CPR lost one its most dynamic scholars, Joe Feller, in a tragic accident. Joe was deservedly well known as a staunch and vigorous advocate on behalf of natural resource preservation, especially the public rangelands that he loved. Joe was not cut from the typical academic mold. Although he wrote frequently and with vision about subjects that included rangeland protection and water law issues, he was at least as comfortable leading environmental protection efforts in the agencies and the courts. Joe filed administrative protests and appeals, represented environmental interests in litigation in the federal courts, submitted comments on proposed agency decisions and rules, testified at public hearings and before legislative committees, and participated in collaborative problem-solving groups.  For example, he successfully litigated a path-breaking case requiring compliance with environmental laws in the renewal of grazing permits on federal public lands.  Joe’s contributions to CPR included efforts to facilitate grazing law reform, http://www.progressivereform.org/perspLivestock.cfm.  

Joe brought to these endeavors interdisciplinary skills that most legal academics lack. He earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley and was an Assistant Professor of Physics at Columbia University.  Before beginning his legal academic career, he worked in the Office of General Counsel of EPA, serving as the principal attorney for promulgation of the national ambient air quality standards for particulate matter in the 1980s. 

Those who knew Joe, however, understand that a recitation of his many notable accomplishments does not come close to capturing what made him beloved by his friends, colleagues, and students. Joe was irreverent. He had a wicked sense of humor. He was incredibly quick and insightful. He let you know where he stood, but was not overbearing. A gathering that included Joe Feller was never dull. He had a knack for cutting to the chase by posing questions and making arguments that reflected his fervor for the legal and policy issues on which he engaged, but that also sparked debate and new insights among others. Joe’s passing leaves a large hole. Those of us who shared a meal, hiked a trail, took a run, or attended a conference with Joe will sorely miss his humor, optimism, and high spirits, but we will treasure the memories of these experiences. 

Much of what was special about Joe is captured in tributes that others have already written, including blogs by Holly Doremus, another CPR scholar, http://legalplanet.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/in-memoriam-joe-feller-much-more-than-a-law-professor/, by Joe’s colleagues at ASU, http://www.indisputably.org/?p=4615, and by other legal scholars, http://lsolum.typepad.com/legaltheory/2013/04/joseph-feller.html.  A scholarship fund has been established at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, where Joe taught for 25 years, www.asufoundation.org/feller.  A collection of Joe’s photos of the landscapes he so loved and fought so hard to protect can be found here, http://picasaweb.google.com/109546365407066839141.

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Robert L. Glicksman is the J. B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law at the George Washington University Law School. He is a member of the board of directors of the Center for Progressive Reform.

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