William Ruckelshaus

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William Ruckelshaus
William Ruckelshaus.jpg
1st and 5th Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
In office
May 15, 1983 – February 7, 1985
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byAnne Gorsuch
Succeeded byLee Thomas
In office
December 4, 1970 – April 30, 1973
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byRussell Train
13th United States Deputy Attorney General
In office
July 9, 1973 – October 20, 1973
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byJoseph Sneed
Succeeded byLaurence Silberman
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
In office
April 30, 1973 – July 9, 1973
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byPat Gray (Acting)
Succeeded byClarence Kelley
Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division
In office
January 20, 1969 – December 4, 1970
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byEdwin Weisl
Succeeded byPat Gray
Member of the Indiana House of Representatives
from the 26th district
In office
November 9, 1966 – November 6, 1968
Preceded byMulti-member district[1]
Succeeded byMulti-member district
Personal details
BornWilliam Doyle Ruckelshaus
(1932-07-24) July 24, 1932 (age 86)
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
EducationPrinceton University (BA)
Harvard University (LLB)
AwardsPresidential Medal of Freedom

William Doyle Ruckelshaus (born July 24, 1932) is an American attorney and former U.S. government official. He was the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, was subsequently acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and then Deputy Attorney General of the United States. During 1983 through 1985 he returned as EPA Administrator.

Early life, military service and education[edit]

Ruckelshaus was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of Marion Doyle Covington and John K. Ruckelshaus.[2] He is from a distinguished family with a long history of practicing law in Indianapolis and serving in Republican Party politics.

He attended parochial schools until the age of 16, then finished high school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, at the Portsmouth Abbey School. After graduation, he served for two years in the United States Army, becoming a drill sergeant, and left the service in 1955. Ruckelshaus then graduated with an A.B. (cum laude) in history from Princeton University, followed in 1960 by an LL.B. from Harvard Law School.

Early legal and political career[edit]

After passing the Indiana bar exam, Ruckelshaus joined the family law firm of Ruckelshaus, Bobbitt, and O'Connor.[3]

In 1960, at age 28, he was appointed as Deputy Attorney General of Indiana, and served through 1965.[3] For two years he was assigned to the Indiana Board of Health. As counsel to the Indiana Stream Pollution Control Board, Ruckelshaus obtained court orders prohibiting industries and municipalities from heavy pollution of the state's water supply; he also helped draft the 1961 Indiana Air Pollution Control Act, the state's first attempt to reduce that problem.[3] After that assignment, he spent two years as Chief Counsel for the Attorney General's Office.[3]

In 1964 Ruckelshaus ran as a moderate Republican for an Indiana Congressional seat, losing in the primaries to a candidate from the conservative wing of the party. He subsequently spent a year as Minority Attorney for the Indiana State Senate.[3]

He won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives in 1967, benefiting from an up year for Republicans overall.[3] During his term in office, until 1969, he served as Majority Leader of the House.[3] Ruckelshaus won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 1968, but lost in the general election 51%–48% to Birch Bayh.[4]

In 1969 President Richard Nixon appointed him as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division for the U.S. Department of Justice,[3] a post he held until his appointment as the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, in 1970.[citation needed]

EPA Administrator[edit]

Ruckelshaus sworn in as first EPA Administrator.
Administrator Ruckelshaus on a tour of the Four Corners Air Quality Region by EPA airplane

Ruckelshaus became the United States Environmental Protection Agency's first Administrator when the agency was formed on December 2, 1970, by President Nixon. Although many people were mentioned as possibilities for this new position, Ruckelshaus got the nod based upon the strong recommendation of the U.S. Attorney General, John Mitchell. The idea was initially proposed in a Newsweek opinion column by a friend of Ruckelshaus without his knowledge, after which he approached his boss at the U.S. Department of Justice (Mitchell) about the position[5].

Ruckelshaus laid the foundation for the EPA by hiring its leaders, defining its mission, deciding priorities, and selecting an organizational structure. He also oversaw the implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1970[6].

DDT ban[edit]

With the formation of EPA, authority over pesticides was transferred to it from the Department of Agriculture. The fledgling EPA's first order of business was whether to issue a ban of DDT. Judge Edmund Sweeney was appointed to examine the case and held testimony hearings for seven months. His conclusion was that DDT "is not a carcinogenic hazard to man" and that "there is a present need for the essential uses of DDT."

However, Ruckelshaus, who had not attended the hearings or read the report himself, overruled Sweeney's decision and issued the ban nevertheless, claiming that DDT was a "potential human carcinogen".[7][unreliable source?]

Saturday Night Massacre[edit]

In April 1973 in the growing midst of the Watergate scandal, there was a major reshuffling of Nixon administration posts, due to the resignations of White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and Domestic Affairs Advisor John Ehrlichman. Ruckelshaus's record of success at EPA and his reputation for integrity led to his being appointed Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Later in the same year, he was appointed Deputy Attorney General of the United States Department of Justice. In an event known as the "Saturday Night Massacre", Ruckelshaus and his boss, Elliot Richardson, resigned their positions within the Justice Department rather than obey an order from President Nixon to fire the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was investigating official misconduct on the part of the president and his aides.

Private law[edit]

After leaving the Justice Department, Ruckelshaus returned to the private sector and the practice of law, joining towards the end of 1973 the Washington law firm of Ruckelshaus, Beveridge, Fairbanks, and Diamond. Two years later, he and his wife and five children moved to Seattle, Washington, where he accepted a position as Senior Vice President of Legal Affairs of the Weyerhaeuser Company.

He also served as a director of American Water Development with, among others, Maurice Strong, Samuel Belzberg, Alexander Crutchfield and Richard Lamm.

EPA Administrator redux[edit]

In 1983, with the EPA in crisis due to mass resignations over the mishandling of the Superfund project,[8] President Ronald Reagan appointed Ruckelshaus to serve as EPA Administrator again. This time it was White House Chief of Staff James Baker who was Ruckelshaus's champion in asking him to return to the agency. The White House acceded to Ruckhelshaus's request to allow him maximum autonomy in the choice of new appointees.

Ruckelshaus attempted to win back public confidence in the EPA, a challenging task in the face of a skeptical press and a wary Congress, both of whom scrutinized all aspects of the agency's activities and some of whom interpreted a number of its actions in the worst possible light. Nonetheless, Ruckelshaus filled the top-level staffing slots with persons of competence, turned the attention of the staff back to the agency's fundamental mission, and raised the esteem of the agency in the public mind.

On November 28, 1984, Ruckelshaus announced that he would be retiring as EPA head, effective January 5, 1985, around the start of President Reagan's second term. In actuality he stayed on until February 7, 1985.

Of his two tenures at EPA, Ruckelshaus later reflected:

I've had an awful lot of jobs in my lifetime, and in moving from one to another, have had the opportunity to think about what makes them worthwhile. I've concluded there are four important criteria: interest, excitement, challenge, and fulfillment. I've never worked anywhere where I could find all four to quite the same extent as at EPA. I can find interest, challenge, and excitement as [board chair of a company]. I do have an interesting job. But it is tough to find the same degree of fulfillment I found in the government. At EPA, you work for a cause that is beyond self-interest and larger than the goals people normally pursue. You're not there for the money, you're there for something beyond yourself.[9]

Subsequent career[edit]

In 1985, Ruckelshaus joined Perkins Coie, a Seattle-based law firm. From 1983–86, he served on the World Commission on Environment and Development set up by the United Nations. Around 1988, he became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Browning Ferris Industries of Houston, Texas.

President Bill Clinton appointed him as U.S. envoy in the implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty; serving from 1997 to 1998. In 1999, he was appointed by Gov. Gary Locke as Chairman of the Salmon Recovery Funding Board for the State of Washington.

In the early 2000s, Ruckelshaus was appointed by Pres. George W. Bush to serve on the United States Commission on Ocean Policy. On September 20, 2004, the Commission submitted its Final Report to the President and Congress, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century. Since June 2010 Ruckelshaus has served as Co-chair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.

Ruckelshaus serves or has served as a director on boards of several corporations, including Monsanto, Cummins Engine Company, Pharmacia Corporation, Solutia, Coinstar, Nordstrom, and Weyerhaeuser Company.[10]

He is Chair of the Advisory Board of The William D. Ruckelshaus Center[11] at the University of Washington and Washington State University, Chair Emeritus of the University of Wyoming's Ruckelshaus Institute for Environment and Natural Resources, Chairman Emeritus of the World Resources Institute,[12] and Chair of the Meridian Institute. He is a director of the Initiative for Global Development.[13]

On April 17, 2008, Ruckelshaus made news again when he announced his endorsement of Democrat Barack Obama for President of the United States.

On May 7, 2008, Ruckelshaus was appointed to the Washington State Puget Sound Partnership, an agency devoted to cleaning up Puget Sound.[14]

In early 2012, Ruckelshaus was appointed co-chair of the Washington Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification.[15]

In 2016, Ruckelshaus endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.[16]

Presidential Medal of Freedom[edit]

In November 2015, Ruckelshaus was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama during a ceremony at the White House.[17][18]


  1. ^ "Indiana Political History Database: State Representatives from Marion County". Capitol & Washington.
  2. ^ The International Who's Who, 1997-98. 61. Europa Publications. 1997. ISBN 9781857430226.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "William D. Ruckelshaus: Oral History Interview", January 1993. Section, "Biography". Environmental Protection Agency. archive.epa.gov. Retrieved 2017-03-19. See also: "Biography". Archived from the original on September 9, 2009.
  4. ^ "William Ruckelshaus '51 Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom". Portsmouth Abbey School. January 25, 2016. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  5. ^ “Early Implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1970 in California.” EPA Alumni Association. Video, Transcript (see p2,3). July 12, 2016.
  6. ^ “Early Implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1970 in California.” EPA Alumni Association. Video, Transcript. July 12, 2016.
  7. ^ American Council on Science and Health. "Facts versus fears: DDT". Archived from the original on July 19, 2001.
  8. ^ Sullivan, Patricia (July 22, 2004). "Anne Gorsuch Burford, 62, Dies; Reagan EPA Director". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  9. ^ "William D. Ruckelshaus: Oral History Interview", January 1993. Section, "Reflections on Being Administrator". Environmental Protection Agency. archive.epa.gov. Retrieved 2017-03-19. See also: "Reflections on Being Administrator". Archived from the original on October 2, 2006.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 18, 2013. Retrieved August 1, 2012.
  11. ^ "The William D. Ruckelshaus Center - Washington State University".
  12. ^ World Resources Institute Biosketch of William D. Ruckelshaus. Accessed March 27, 2012.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 6, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2012.
  14. ^ "Puget Sound Partnership". Psp.wa.gov. 2008-09-01. Retrieved 2010-08-21.
  15. ^ "Washington Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification". ecy.wa.gov. Retrieved 2014-08-22.
  16. ^ ""Two former Republican EPA administrators throw support to Clinton"". 2016-08-09. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  17. ^ "President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom". The White House. November 16, 2015. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  18. ^ Phil Helsel – "Obama honoring Spielberg, Streisand and more with medal of freedom," NBC News, November 24, 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-25

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Homer Capehart
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Indiana
(Class 3)

Succeeded by
Dick Lugar
Legal offices
Preceded by
Edwin Weisl
Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division
Succeeded by
Pat Gray
Preceded by
Joseph Sneed
United States Deputy Attorney General
Succeeded by
Laurence Silberman
Political offices
New office Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Succeeded by
Russell Train
Preceded by
Anne Gorsuch
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Succeeded by
Lee Thomas
Government offices
Preceded by
Pat Gray
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Succeeded by
Clarence Kelley