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In Memoriam: Bill Rodgers Embodied a Spirit of Caring and Generosity while Leading the Environmental Law Movement

The Center for Progressive Reform is saddened to share the news that long-time Member Scholar William H. “Bill” Rodgers, Jr. passed away this month.

A leading professor of environmental law and founder of the environmental law movement, Rodgers leaves a lasting legacy.

“Captain Planet,” as some knew him, taught at the University of Washington and Georgetown University law schools, mentored generations of students, argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts, and testified before Congress “on every bedrock environmental statute enacted in the 1970s,” according to an obituary in the Seattle Times.

He earned bachelor’s and law degrees from Harvard and Columbia Universities, served in the U.S. Marine Corp Reserves, and clerked for a federal judge. He is survived by his son, daughter, and their families.

Rodgers joined the Center in 2009. In his name, the Center has made a donation to the Bill Rodgers Legacy Fund at Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit law firm with which he was involved that helps youth from diverse backgrounds secure their right to a safe climate.

‘Never Too Busy’

Member Scholars of the Center reflected on Rodgers’ life and legacy.

Rob Glicksman, a law professor at The George Washington University and member of the Center’s Board of Directors, offered these remembrances:

I first learned of Bill Rodgers and his work when I was thrown into teaching the pollution statutes. Without what was then Bill’s one-volume treatise, I would have drowned. With that book, it all somehow made sense, on legal, policy, and practical levels.

I first met Bill at one of the semi-annual convenings of the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation shortly after my teaching career began. There were plenty of leading environmental and natural resources law scholars in attendance with plenty of news and ideas to share. But Bill took the time to find out what I was working on, express great interest in it, and give me a “pep talk” by telling me how important my work would be.

When it came time to go up for tenure, the law school’s tenure committee asked me who I’d like to read and evaluate my scholarship. I suggested Bill, figuring that if I were criticized, it would at least come from a leading light in environmental law. I was doubtful he’d be able to squeeze an evaluation of my work into his busy schedule, but he did.

His evaluation was glowing; I’m sure my work at that stage didn’t yet deserve the praise he gave it. But I was extremely grateful nonetheless. These are just examples of Bill’s never-ending caring and generosity. He was never too busy to assist others in the field, especially young scholars, by imparting some of the endless wisdom he possessed.

‘A Giant Sequoia Has Fallen’

Member Scholar A. Dan Tarlock, professor emeritus at Chicago-Kent School of Law, recalled Rodgers’ extraordinary career:

He belongs in the small circle of scholars who launched environmental law and nurtured it creatively throughout a long and productive career. Bill’s treatise was a guidebook for many of us. Not only did he keep abreast of the entire field and accurately report the flood of cases in the 1970s and ‘80s, but he offered insightful and critical analyses to many decisions.

To take one of many examples, for years, I have relied on his analysis of an early circuit court decision that regrettably exempted dams from the Clean Water Act. His more theoretical scholarship was always provocative in the best sense of the word. A giant sequoia has fallen.

William Andreen, professor emeritus at the University of Alabama School of Law, called Rodgers “a real gem – one of a kind, in fact.”

He was, as so many have noted, a gifted and pioneering scholar and teacher – innovative, creative, dedicated to his students, and prolific in his writing. More significantly, however, was his dedication and enthusiasm for the cause of justice and a healthy environment. He was always thinking dynamically with that twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. Most significantly, however, Bill Rodgers was a genuinely kind and supportive individual. He will be sorely missed.

To make a donation to the Bill Rodgers Legacy Fund at Our Children’s Trust, please visit this link.

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