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January 2006

A. Dan Tarlock
Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Program in Environmental and Energy Law

Although the United States has a rich history of environmentalism, from Henry David Thoreau and Walden Pond to John Muir and the Sierra Club, the modern environmental movement began in earnest in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Professor A. Dan Tarlock has been at the forefront of environmental law since its inception. His vast body of scholarly work and research throughout the United States and abroad has made him one of the world's preeminent experts in environmental and energy law.

Tarlock has taught at Chicago-Kent since 1981 and has been director of the Program in Environmental and Energy Law since 2003. A prolific scholar, he was named distinguished professor in 1992, and served as an associate dean from 1995 to 1997. Prior to joining the faculty at Chicago-Kent, Tarlock was a full-time professor at the University of Kentucky and at Indiana University.

A native Californian with an appreciation for the outdoors, Tarlock first became interested in law in high school. His focus on environmental law crystallized years later when the government began to enact wide-ranging environmental legislation and created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. "Environmental law didn't exist when I went to law school," Tarlock says. "It appeared on the horizon, and I was working in the area of natural resources. It was the most logical connection."

Tarlock, who has been teaching law since he graduated from Stanford Law School in 1965, hadn't thought about becoming a teacher until he was in law school. He credits Stanford law professor and dean Charles J. Meyers -- whose own academic work focused on oil and gas law and environmental law -- for shaping his teaching philosophy. "He was a master teacher," Tarlock says of Meyers. "Very tough, very penetrating in his ability to analyze problems. He was very much a believer in the Socratic method."

Though he would prefer to use the traditional Socratic method more often in his own classes today, Tarlock says the prevalence of laptop computers in law classrooms makes such interactive teaching methods more difficult. "I would say the entry of the laptop into the classroom has pretty much 'done in' the Socratic method. I think it's made students much less responsive," he says. "They're focused on a screen, not on what the teacher is saying, and certainly a lot less on interacting with other students."

Outside the classroom, Tarlock is one of three U.S. special legal advisers to the NAFTA Commission on Environmental Cooperation, for which he reviews complaints against Canada, Mexico and the United States from entities that claim those countries are not enforcing their environmental laws. The commission prepares extensive factual records for complaints that have merit, to help "tell the story" of each case. The special legal advisers give the commission recommendations on interpreting NAFTA's Environmental Side Agreement and other specific, relevant questions of law, as well as on what details to leave on and off the factual record. When confidentiality issues are not a concern, Tarlock discusses the factual records of actual NAFTA environmental complaints with students in class and explains how the complaint process works.

The National Academy of Sciences -- a private, nonprofit society of distinguished scholars dedicated to furthering science and technology -- recently named Tarlock a Lifetime National Associate in recognition of his "extraordinary service" to the organization. Interestingly, although Tarlock claims his aptitude for science was "limited" throughout high school and college, science became increasingly important to him as his interest in environmental law grew. "Almost all environmental problems are scientific problems," he says. "It's only through the National Academy of Sciences that I've worked on some of these problems. Whatever science I know, I've learned from working with real scientists."

In his time at Chicago-Kent, Tarlock has written several books, numerous book chapters and more than 100 scholarly articles. Tarlock's recent book chapter Rediscovering the New Deal's Environmental Legacy, in FDR and the Environment (Palgrave Macmillan 2005), grew out of a friend's invitation to attend a conference on environmental history. "I've always been interested in the history of environmentalism. It's a whole field of history now. And I've always been interested in the New Deal, but I've never really put the two together," Tarlock says. "I think it is important to realize that environmentalism did not just emerge completely in the 1970s, and has a lot of roots in American history."

Beyond interpreting law, Tarlock has taken an interest in crafting environmental legislation as well. His participation in an ABA project to help draft new laws in Afghanistan evolved into The Law of Later-Developing Riparian States: The Case of Afghanistan, an article he co-wrote with Chicago-Kent alumnus Charles McMurray '04. The article discusses the legal aspects of Afghanistan's plans to use water from the overstressed Amu Darya river for irrigation.

In Tarlock's travels to places like Europe, Asia and Australia, as well as to many different regions of the United States, he has found that environmental problems are common to many parts of the world. "It makes you appreciate the difficulty of addressing these environmental issues, especially in developing legal systems," he says. A case in point, Tarlock notes, is China, where water overuse, industrial pollution and increasing fossil fuel consumption continue to damage the environment. "They've had a pretty good understanding of their environmental problems for years, but they don't do very much about it," he says.

Among the issues Tarlock is currently examining are legal challenges and attempts to reform the Endangered Species Act, the extent to which environmental considerations will be taken into account in plans to rebuild the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and international water issues. He is working on a book on conflicts between preserving endangered species and the use of water.


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