posted Jun 28, 2017

Environmental law leader Bill Rodgers retires

Scholar, teacher, litigator and the “Captain Planet” of environmental law, Professor Bill Rodgers is retiring after over 40 years of service to the UW School of Law. Rodgers trained and inspired countless numbers of students through his teaching and work.

“Professor Rodgers’ academic career has changed the course of history in profound ways, making lasting impact for the benefit of environmental justice and educating generations of lawyers and policy-makers who strive to protect our planet,” said Dean Kellye Testy. “There is no greater legacy than his.”

When Rodgers began teaching at the UW in 1967, environmental law did not yet exist as a recognized field, and essentially no textbooks or courses were offered in the subject.

“His early hornbook was among the first to coalesce the area into a cognizable field at all,” said Todd Wildermuth, director of the UW Environmental Law Program. “His environmental law treatise has recorded the development of our field for over a generation.”

As both an academic and practicing lawyer, Rodgers pursued justice in environmental controversies, arguing cases on energy, pollution and treaty fishing before the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Courts of Appeals and U.S. District Courts. He litigated a host of major environmental cases, from petitioning to ban the insecticide DDT, to working to shut down the ASARCO smelter in Tacoma, to representing the Puyallup Tribe in their fight to protect treaty rights and access to salmon. He testified in support of many significant environmental laws, and one of his journal articles became an integral part of the adoption of the Clean Water Act.

In all of his projects, Rodgers sought to involve his students, encouraging them to investigate, litigate, testify and write legislation. Known for his energy and creativity in the classroom, he inspired both students and other law professors with his innovative teaching approach. Rodgers has also offered support for the next generation of environmental lawyers and professors through mentorship, encouraging and instilling confidence in people starting their careers. His daughter was no exception. 

 “Growing up, many of our family trips were to Superfund sites, gold mine and fish hatcheries,” said Andrea Rodgers.  “I am so lucky to have his historical perspective guide me in pursuing environmental cases exclusively on behalf of the public interest.”

Among his other contributions, Rodgers is nationally known for his academic work and creative scholarship. He reads well over 1000 cases every year, continues to update his treatise on environmental law every six months and by all accounts thoroughly enjoys it – he’s been known to laugh as he works, says his daughter, likely from “some atrocious case” he is reading.

“How surprised I was just to see how prolific he was in his writing, hundreds of articles,” said Rodgers. “But, he was also home so much and present at every basketball game and school event, my brother and I used to think he was unemployed.”

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the publication of his treatise and through his scholarship, teaching and example, Rodgers leaves a lasting influence.

“His fidelity to the best hopes of environmental law is without equal,” said Wildermuth. “Bill has kept those hopes alive for the rest of us, without pause and without fail.