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Remembering Douglas M. Costle

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Dean Douglas M. Costle in 1980. (Denver Post/EPA)

January 18, 2019

Doug’s appointment as dean of Vermont Law School in 1987 brought us a proven environmental leader of national renown and his four-year tenure boosted the school’s reputation nationally and internationally.

Doug came to VLS after groundbreaking service in environmental protection. As senior staff associate for environmental and natural resources for the President’s Advisory Council on Executive Organization under President Richard Nixon, he headed the study that in 1970 recommended the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Doug served as commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection in the early 1970s and as administrator of the EPA in the Carter administration from March 1977 until January 1981.

After his government service, Doug launched the Environmental Testing and Certification Corporation, a national environmental analytical services laboratory in Edison, N.J. He also put his vast knowledge and experience to work as an adjunct lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School and as a visiting scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health. He later co-chaired the Carnegie Commission of Science, Technology, and Government Task Force that produced the report “Risk Environment – Improving Regulatory Decision-Making.” In addition, he chaired the board of the Institute for Sustainable Communities and served on the Clinton Administration Transition Team on Energy.

Doug’s inauguration as dean of Vermont Law School placed the school in the national spotlight, increasing applications and energizing the VLS community. Doug assisted the school in a number of major ways, including the planning and fundraising efforts that resulted in construction of the Cornell Library. Doug’s deanship culminated in Vermont Law School achieving the No. 1 position among environmental law programs in the country in peer rankings compiled by U.S. News & World Report. When he left the VLS helm in 1991, he could note with pride that Vermont Law School “had hit its stride as a national law school.”


Thomas McHenry
President and Dean, Professor of Law at Vermont Law School

In honor of Dean Costle's contributions to Vermont Law School, we ask alumni, students, faculty, staff, and others to share tributes and memories of their teacher, colleague, and friend. See the submission form at right.


Brett Herman:
"My heartfelt condolences to the family on Doug's passing. I have only fond memories of him."

David Reeves:
"We mourn the passing of our dear friend Doug. Always a joy to be around and always a kind word for all those he knew. Doug held no pretense, embraced all people and cared about the important things in life. We hold him in our hearts. David Reeves JD'76 and Susan Reeves."

J. Scott Cameron:
"Dear Betsy: I was saddened to learn of Doug's passing. My association with Doug during his leadership years at Vermont Law School was and always will be very special to me. I learned so much from Doug during that time period. It was an honor to serve on the VLS Board and to support his successful efforts to make VLS a player among national law schools. Doug was energetic, hard working, well connected, knowledgeable and perpetually optimistic cheerleader for our school, and we were lucky to have him as our Dean. He will always be remembered as one of the great leaders of Vermont Law School. Cathy and I are thinking of and sending our love to you at this difficult time. Take good care."

Victoria Rosendahl:
"I had the privilege of being the student who picked up Dean Costle at the train station when he would come to visit before he became Dean in 1987. We had some lively lunches and debated many issues that were ongoing in DC that spring. Godspeed Doug and bless his family and friends."

Carl Yirka:
"Dear Betsy, My sincere condolences on your loss. Doug hired me as Vermont Law School library director in 1989. When I think of Doug, I recall that two weeks after I started work at VLS, the Board of Trustees decided we needed to build a new library and it must be completed within two years, before the next ABA inspection. Particularly during this time, I had the pleasure to work with Doug on issues of the design of what would become the Julian and Virginia Cornell Library and its furnishings. Our progress meetings in his office would, on occasion, be interrupted by calls from Washington, which Doug enjoyed mightily. During these calls he never asked me to leave the room. Having attended a library building conference, I returned full of knowledge I had just learned. As I repeated these bits of wisdom I added an almost throwaway line of one of the speakers: “If you do it right, you can build custom furniture for the same price as furniture out of a catalog.” After a moment of silence, I remember Doug looking at me from across his desk, and with one eyebrow raised, saying: “If you can do it for the same amount as we budgeted, go ahead.” The library and its custom furniture has been and still is a great success. I always appreciated the trust Doug had in me to get the job done. He will be missed."

Karel Brown Ryan:
"A visionary and leader whose legacy shines brighter with each passing year."