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William Ruckelshaus and 40 years of environmental protection

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Joined: 07 Mar 1999
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Location: Berkeley, California

PostPosted: Wed Apr 14, 2010 9:56 am    Post subject: William Ruckelshaus and 40 years of environmental protection Reply with quote

My ears are still steaming over a slanderous attack in this forum on William Ruckelshaus, the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency. I had the good fortune to hear him speak at the First annual EPA Alumni Association meeting on April 13, 2010, in anticipation of the 40 year anniversary of EPA’s establishment in 1970. It is useful to examine just a bit of that history, and Ruckelshaus’ role in the modern environmental movement.

He was named head of the newly created EPA in December 1970, during Richard Nixon’s first term as President. He came from a distinguished family of Indiana Republicans. After serving two years in the Army, he attended Princeton and then Harvard Law School and began working as a lawyer in 1960. His first environmental work was as a deputy attorney general in Indiana, where he helped draft the Indiana Air Pollution Control Act in 1961. He became involved in politics, winning a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives, rising to Majority Leader in his first term, and losing a senatorial election to Birch Bayh in 1968.

When Nixon was elected, Ruckelshaus was appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney General for the Civil Division, overseeing all civil litigation involving the federal government. But the nations interest in protecting and restoring the environment was stirring. One of the early events was the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, and Nixon was urged to establish an agency to oversee environmental efforts. William Ruckelshaus was named to the office of administrator, and held that position from the agency's first day of operation on December 4, 1970, until April 30, 1973. He was 37 years old when named head of EPA.

When the Watergate Scandal broke, Nixon named Ruckelshaus acting head of the FBI after Patrick Gray resigned. As the scandal continued to unfold, Attorney General Elliott Richardson made him his Deputy at the Justice Department. But with investigation closing on Nixon, he demanded that Richardson fire Special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson and then Ruckelshaus resigned rather than fire Cox, an event that became to be known as the "Saturday Night Massacre." (Interestingly enough, Robert Bork, the darling of the right whose Supreme Court bid failed, was the acting attorney general who finally fired Cox.)

After leaving the Nixon administration, Ruckelshaus worked in Washington D. C. for two years, and then in 1975 took a position as Senior Vice President of the Weyerhaeuser Company in Seattle. He returned as head of EPA under the Reagan administration from May 15, 1983, until February 7, 1985.

It is important to remember the tenor of the 1970’s, when about ten different environmental laws were enacted. Nixon vetoed one, the Clean Water Act, but that veto was overridden by a Senate vote of 52-12 and a House vote of 247-23 during the presidential campaign of 1972. It was a time unlike today, because many Republicans supported environmental protection. It was an era, as Ruckelshaus said yesterday, when “the people of Colorado wanted to see the mountains, and the people of Los Angeles just wanted to see each other.” I was fortunate to spend about 5 years at EPA, starting as a student intern in 1972 and working on many water quality programs and projects.

The claim that Ruckelshaus was a member of the Environmental Defense Fund comes directly from the web site, published by Steven Milloy, and was repeated on Fox news editorials in 2002. This claim is, to steal a phrase, junk facts. The Environmental Defense Fund was the organization that lobbied to see DDT banned, and the commonly available biographies of Ruckelshaus show him heading up corporations like Browning Ferris, and serving on the board of the World Resources Institute. All such work was well after he left EPA. He has been attacked by both the right and the left for his later work. Some on the left claim that his later work for corporations was set up by his not being tough enough on polluters while at EPA. Both claims are absolutely rubbish.

Mrygbye’s claim that Ruckelshaus somehow manipulated the record in banning DDT destroyed whatever credibility he may have established with me in this forum. It was, at best, a careless and slanderous attack on a brilliant civil servant, repeating without understanding, baseless lies that arose on a right-wing attack site. Coupled with his other defenses of polluting industries and attacks on global warming scientists—well, you be the judge.
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