Bill Jackson (J.D. ’92)

The University of Houston Law Center produces graduates who go on to become prominent leaders in their field, dedicated to creating real impact. UH Law Center alumnus and former president of the UH Law Foundation Board, Bill Jackson (J.D. ’92) is no exception. As co-chair of Kelley Drye & Warren LLP’s National Environmental Practice Group, Jackson has one of the most successful environmental and natural resource damages litigation practices in the country.  Through his representation of dozens of states, U.S. territories, and local governmental entities in significant contamination matters over the last 25 years, Jackson has proven his ability to fiercely advocate for his clients time and again.

On May 24, 2021, Jackson and his associates at Kelley Drye celebrated a memorable win when a unanimous Supreme Court ruled in favor of their client, the Territory of Guam. In a rare 9-0 decision, the Court held that Guam could proceed with its claims to require the United States to pay its fair share of the costs necessary to remediate a dumpsite, referred to as the Ordot Dump, that the United States military had created, operated and used since before 1940. As a result of the decision, Guam will be able to proceed with its action against the United States for recovery of its share of the $160 million in cleanup costs associated with the Ordot Dump.

For nearly half a century, the United States military discarded military and other toxic waste at the Ordot Dump without any environmental safeguards. The dump was owned and operated by the military before it was transferred to the newly-created Government of Guam in 1950 under the Guam Organic Act. The military continued to use the dumpsite after Guam gained sovereignty.

Beginning in 1986, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Guam to create plans for the containment and disposal of the dumpsite. As problems at the site persisted, the United States forced Guam to close and clean up the Ordot Dump. In 2004, The United States sued Guam under the Clean Water Act, forcing Guam to assume all of the costs for the entire cleanup.

After the United States refused to address Guam’s requests that it share the costs, Guam retained Jackson and Kelley Drye in 2017 to bring suit against the United States, pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation Liability Act (CERCLA), seeking to hold the United States accountable for its share of the cleanup, closure, and relocation costs. The United States maintained throughout that Guam’s claims were time-barred because the U.S. argued that the 2004 Clean Water Act triggered Guam’s rights to bring a CERCLA contribution action. The District Court sided with Guam and concluded that Guam could maintain its claim against the United States. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, however, reversed this decision in 2020, ruling that CERCLA’s statute of limitations barred Guam’s claims. Due to a split among the Circuits on the issues, the Supreme Court accepted Guam’s petition for certiorari and heard the case in April.

Jackson believes that the Supreme Court ruling in favor of Guam provides needed clarity on the scope of the CERCLA claim, serving as a significant step forward for states’ ability to seek the quick remediation of sites in their jurisdictions under their own laws. It is also a significant achievement for Guam and its people. “The decision reached in this case is not only a win for the Territory of Guam, but for the people of Guam as well,” said Jackson. “Guam and its citizens have enthusiastically and consistently supported the United States military for generations, and this ruling ensures that they will have equity here: that the U.S. will pay its fair share of these costs and will not unfairly shift the entire burden of the U.S. presence in the Pacific to the people of Guam.”

While Jackson continues to champion causes on behalf of his clients, he remains very active and involved with the UH Law Center, serving as chair of the Law Center’s New Building Campaign. “With a world-class building, I strongly believe that the Law Center is on the trajectory to higher rankings and well-deserved national recognition for its existing quality and excellence in legal education,” said Jackson.