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EPA History

Bill Ruckelshaus, 1932-2019

Remembering EPA's First, and Fifth, Administrator

"EPA was fortunate to have, as its first Administrator, an extraordinary public servant who gave direction and momentum to the fledgling environmental agency."
-- President Ronald Reagan, May 18, 1983

Ruckelshaus touring the Four Corners area, 1971Ruckelshaus touring the Four Corners area, 1971.William Ruckelshaus was the first Administrator of the EPA, appointed by President Nixon when the agency was created in 1970. He compiled an astonishing list of accomplishments in three short years:
  • banning the dangerous pesticide DDT;
  • setting the first air quality standards to protect public health under the fledgling Clean Air Act;
  • establishing standards for cleaner cars and lead-free gasoline;
  • building an environmental law-enforcement program with teeth;
  • creating clean-water-permit requirements for cities and industries; and
  • building a foundation for so many of the environmental protections we now take for granted.

During the 1960s, smog in many cities had become deadly and rivers were so polluted they caught on fire. Ruckelshaus helped set the nation on a new path to protect and preserve our environment, and in turn, our health. And he established a set of core values that still drive this agency today: respecting the law, following the science, and operating openly and transparently.

In 1973, he was tapped to serve as Acting FBI Director, and soon after as Deputy Attorney General—a position which spanned the Watergate crisis and from which he resigned as a matter of integrity and principle. In 1983, Ruckelshaus returned to EPA for a second stint in which he launched our Superfund program—initiating clean-up of thousands of contaminated sites across America. He also started work on Chesapeake Bay protections, and set the agency on a course to address the challenge of acid rain.

EPA remembers Ruckelshaus for his integrity, leadership, and commitment to protecting public health and the environment. 

Biographies and Articles about Administrator Ruckelshaus

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Videos Featuring Administrator Ruckelshaus

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Articles by Administrator Ruckelshaus

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