Former EPA Administrator Bill Ruckelshaus Great American Leader and Mentor

Statement by Andrew Rosenberg, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Nov 27, 2019

WASHINGTON (November 27, 2019)—William D. Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Richard Nixon, died today at the age of 87. Ruckelshaus served President Nixon as acting FBI director and deputy attorney general. Ruckelshaus returned for a second term as EPA administrator under President Ronald Reagan.

Below is a statement by Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of William D. Ruckelshaus today at his home in Seattle. He was a great American leader and a mentor for me. He was perhaps best known for his time as deputy attorney general of the United States when he took an ethical stand against President Nixon’s order to fire the special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal. Rather than follow that order, Bill resigned. He believed deeply in the rule of law.

“But Bill Ruckelshaus was so much more. He was the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. And he was the man President Reagan turned to to lead the EPA when it fell into an ethical crisis in the 1980s. He believed in the importance of environmental protection because a healthy society depended on it.

“He served as a member of the Brundtland Commission, better known was the World Commission on Environment and Development. The Commission authored the seminal 1987 report ‘Our Common Future,’ which laid out the sustainable development principles that economic development and environmental protection need not be at odds with each other, but that development can take a sustainable path. In the words of the commission, ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’

“I first met Bill Ruckelshaus when we were both appointed to serve on the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. For him, it was another appointment based on his deep experience and reputation for getting things done. For me, it was a tremendous learning experience, not least of which was the chance to get to know Bill. His ability to guide a discussion was remarkable. He didn’t need to dominate or be the loudest voice. But when he spoke everyone listened. And in side conversations he helped me see how to make my points. He was unfailingly respectful of others. When I brought my students to a meeting he talked with them. When I had a foolish point or question, he corrected but with care. I admired him so very much.

“During these troubling times, with political divisions in constant view, we need people like Bill Ruckelshaus. A lifelong Republican, but with more adherence to principle than party. A man who said what he thought without tearing down others. The stories of his life in public service provide lessons we need to learn over and over again. My heart goes out to his family.”