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Historical Biography

Ronald J. Tenpas

Ronald J. Tenpas
32nd Assistant Attorney General, ENRD, -

Early History/Schooling:  Ronald Jay Tenpas was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania.  He  graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Michigan State University in 1985.  In 1987, he received a postgraduate degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.  He then attended the University of Virginia Law School, receiving a J.D. in 1990.  During his time there, he was editor-in-chief of the Virginia Law Review.

Tenure as AAG:  President George W. Bush nominated Tenpas to be AAG of the Environment and Natural Resources Division in May 2007.  Tenpas served as Acting AAG until his confirmation in December 2007.  During his tenure, the Division obtained the largest-ever injunctive relief settlement for an environmental case, with American Electric Power agreeing to install approximately of $4.6 billion worth of equipment to reduce emissions and to pay a $15 million fine.  The Division also successfully defended the Navy’s use of sonar in several cases, including Winter v. NRDC in the Supreme Court.  Another major undertaking of the Division during this time was the initiation of hundreds of eminent domain cases on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security to secure lands along the border between the U.S. and Mexico for the construction of a security fence.  As AAG, Tenpas argued two cases in the courts of appeals: one in the Ninth Circuit defending the Navy’s use of sonar (NRDC v. Winter), and the other in the Fifth Circuit establishing important legal principles underlying the Division’s vessel pollution initiative (U.S. v. Jho). 

Career: After receiving his J.D. from the University of Virginia, Tenpas served as law clerk to Judge Louis H. Pollak of the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (1990-1991), Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court (1991-1992), and Judge Howard Holtzman of the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands (1992-1993).  Tenpas was an associate with the Carlton, Fields law firm in Tampa from 1993 until 1997.  He served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida until 1999.  From 1999 to 2003, he served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Maryland.  He was then appointed the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, where he remained until November 2005.  That month, Tenpas was appointed to be the Associate Deputy Attorney General, where he served until his nomination as AAG in 2007.  After serving as AAG, Tenpas became partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Washington, DC. 

Personal:  Tenpas is married to Kathryn Dunn, an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.  They have two sons, Nathaniel and Will.

This material is based on the review of a variety of historical sources, and its accuracy cannot be guaranteed.  If you have any corrections or additional information about this individual or about the history of the Division, please contact ENRD.

Updated June 8, 2023