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Trailblazer William Rodgers to Speak on Landmark Environmental Laws

October 22, 2009

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT—Professor William H. Rodgers Jr., a trailblazer in environmental law who has inspired generations of lawyers, will assess the reach and sweep of environmental legal history in a public lecture at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, at Chase Community Center at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.

Entitled “The Environmental Laws of the 1970s: They Looked Good on Paper,” the lecture will examine how the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 and other landmark laws of that period have weathered current times, including their unanticipated consequences and their application to unforeseen circumstances—particularly climate change. “Like a boat, a law is built at a certain point in time—can it still float 40 years later?” he asks. He will also analyze the state of current affairs: “You can’t hear the science without being pessimistic, and you can’t view all that’s going on without being optimistic,” he says.

Rodgers is teaching at Vermont Law School this semester as the first Douglas Costle Chair Visiting Professor. Called “a mentor to the mentors,” he has taught four decades primarily at the University of Washington School of Law, where the faculty unanimously awarded him the first Stimson Bullitt Professor of Law chair. He accepted the Costle Chair at VLS, he says, because “I have to see what’s going on in Number One—you’ve got to be impressed with the ranking they’ve earned,” referring to U.SNews & World Report’s repeatedly designating of VLS as the top environmental law school in the country.

Known for his rapier intelligence and sharp yet kindly wit, Rodgers has argued cases on environmental, energy, pollution, and treaty fishing matters before the U.S. Supreme Court and many other federal and state courts. He has had a hand in shaping law and policy on issues such as pesticides, power-plant siting, air and water quality, Native American fishing rights, and nerve gas shipments. He has written voluminously: if the pages of the books and articles he has written on environmental law were put end to end, they would reach 5.8 times as high as the Empire State Building, an article in the Washington Law Review pointed out. His upcoming book, an interdisciplinary climate-change reader for law students, will be published by Carolina Academic Press in January.

Although Rodgers is often called “a founder of the environmental movement,” he seems embarrassed by the accolade. “I never use that phrase myself—it’s such a huge thing, like being a founder of the sunrise or something, and I wasn’t the first person to watch the sun rise,” he says with a chuckle.

The talk is the first annual Costle Lecture. The Costle Chair is named in honor of Douglas Costle, former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and dean of Vermont Law School from 1987 to 1991. The talk is free and open to the public. A reception will follow from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

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