William Ruckelshaus

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The Honorable
William Ruckelshaus
William Ruckelshaus.jpg
William Ruckelshaus
1st and 5th Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
In office
May 15, 1983 – February 7, 1985
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Anne M. Gorsuch
Succeeded by Lee M. Thomas
In office
December 4, 1970 – April 30, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Russell E. Train
United States Deputy Attorney General
In office
July 9, 1973 – October 20, 1973
President Richard M. Nixon
Preceded by Joseph Tyree Sneed, III
Succeeded by Laurence Silberman
Acting Director of the Federal
Bureau of Investigation
In office
April 30, 1973 – July 9, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by L. Patrick Gray
Succeeded by Clarence M. Kelley (Director)
Assistant United States Attorney General for the Civil Division
In office
January 20, 1969 – December 4, 1970
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Edwin L. Weisl, Jr.
Succeeded by L. Patrick Gray
Personal details
Born William Doyle Ruckelshaus
(1932-07-24) July 24, 1932 (age 89)
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
Political party Republican
Alma mater Princeton University
Harvard Law School
Profession Lawyer

William Doyle Ruckelshaus (born July 24, 1932) is an American attorney and former U.S. government official. He served as 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

Ruckelshaus was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, to 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 L.L.B. from Harvard Law School.

Early legal and political career

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

Starting at age 28, he was a Deputy Attorney General of Indiana from 1960 through 1965. 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. He then spent two years as Chief Counsel for the Attorney General's Office.

Ruckelshaus then began a political career. He ran in 1964 as a moderate Republican for an Indiana Congressional seat, losing in the primaries to a candidate from the conservative wing of the party. He then spent a year as Minority Attorney for the Indiana State Senate.

He then won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives, benefitting from an up year for Republicans overall. He became Majority Leader of the House in his first term, serving in that capacity from 1967 to 1969.

Ruckelshaus then won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 1968, but lost in the general election 51%-48% to Birch Bayh.

President Richard Nixon then appointed him for the years 1969 and 1970 as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division for the U.S. Department of Justice.

EPA Administrator

File:William Ruckleshaus Swearing In as EPA Administrator.jpg
Ruckleshaus sworn in as first EPA Administrator.

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.

Ruckelshaus laid the foundation for the EPA by hiring its leaders, defining its mission, deciding priorities, and selecting an organizational structure.


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” [1] Present-day scientific opinion considers DDT to be "probably carcinogenic to humans".[2]

Saturday Night Massacre

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, famously 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

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

In 1983, with the EPA in crisis due to mass resignations over the mishandling of the Superfund project,[3] 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.[4]

Subsequent career

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.

Pres. Bill Clinton appointed him as U.S. envoy in the implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty; he was that 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.[5]

He is Chair of the Advisory Board of The William D. Ruckelshaus Center[6] 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,[7] and Chair of the Meridian Institute. He is a director of the Initiative for Global Development.[8]

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.[9]

In early 2012, Ruckelshaus was appointed co-chair of the Washington Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification .[10]

Presidential Medal of Freedom

In November 2015, Ruckelshaus was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama during a ceremony at the White House.[11][12]


  1. http://dwb.unl.edu/Teacher/NSF/C06/C06Links/www.altgreen.com.au/Chemicals/ddt.html
  2. http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2015/pdfs/pr236_E.pdf
  3. Sullivan, Patricia (July 22, 2004). "Anne Gorsuch Burford, 62, Dies; Reagan EPA Director". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "William D. Ruckelshaus: Oral History Interview | EPA History | US EPA". Epa.gov. Retrieved 2010-08-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. http://ruckelshauscenter.wsu.edu/about/Ruckelshaus.bio.html
  6. The William D. Ruckelshaus Center Official Website
  7. World Resources Institute Biosketch of William D. Ruckelshaus. Accessed March 27, 2012.
  8. http://igdleaders.org/sections/whoweare/whoweare_leadershipcouncil.asp
  9. "Puget Sound Partnership". Psp.wa.gov. 2008-09-01. Retrieved 2010-08-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Washington Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification". ecy.wa.gov. Retrieved 2014-08-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom". The White House. November 16, 2015. Retrieved November 16, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Phil Helsel - "Obama honoring Spielberg, Streisand and more with medal of freedom," NBC News, November 24, 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-25

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
New office
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Succeeded by
Russell Train
Preceded by
L. Patrick Gray
Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Succeeded by
Clarence M. Kelley
Preceded by
Anne M. Gorsuch
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Succeeded by
Lee M. Thomas
Legal offices
Preceded by
Joseph Sneed
U.S. Deputy Attorney General
Served under: Richard Nixon

Succeeded by
Laurence Silberman