William D. Ruckelshaus

July 24, 1932, Indianapolis-November 27, 2019, Seattle

William D. Ruckelshaus had a special connection with the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and we, along with the world, mourn his passing.

headshotWhile Ruckelshaus is perhaps best known as the first and fifth administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (with his deputy administrator, our own Jim Barnes, recommended to Ruckelshaus by our founding Dean Charles Bonser) and for his defiance during Watergate, at the O’Neill School we remember him also for being an early member of SPEA’s Board of Visitors and for serving as the keynote speaker at our 2006 symposium and celebration, “35 Years of the EPA.” During that event the William Ruckelshaus Carbon Grove was dedicated at the IU Research and Teaching Preserve.

Ruckelshaus was considered a hero at the EPA and responsible for many of the acts that created better water, air, and environment in the United States—legislation we continue to benefit from to this day. For his work putting “country before party or politics,” Ruckelshaus was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 by President Barack Obama.

To the Honorable William D. Ruckelshaus—we thank you and Godspeed.

Bill Ruckelshaus was the first outside lecturer at SPEA. He was a great speaker, a long-time friend of mine, and always helpful to the school.

Charles Bonser, Founding Dean of SPEA, via phone in 2019

Perhaps the person who personifies all the values that SPEA extols—smart policy, sound science, stronger communities—is the first administrator of the EPA, William D. Ruckelshaus, who championed in elegant and pragmatic ways the rule of law as the foundation for the agency …

Astrid E. Merget, Dean of SPEA from 2000-07, at the 2006 symposium

About William D. Ruckelshaus

From the 2006 symposium and celebration, “35 Years of the EPA”

EPA administrator, from December 1970 to April 1973. During EPA’s formative years, he concentrated on developing the new agency’s organizational structure, enforcement actions against severely polluted cities and industrial polluters, setting health-based standards for air pollutants and standards for automobile emissions, requiring states to submit new air quality plans, and the banning of the general use of the pesticide DDT. He left EPA in 1973 to serve as acting FBI director, during the Nixon Administration’s cabinet openings following the breaking of the Watergate scandal, and then served briefly as deputy attorney general at the Justice Department.

During President Reagan’s term, White House Chief of Staff James Baker asked Ruckelshaus to return to EPA and during his 1983-85 term as administrator, he worked to improve staff and public morale toward the agency, and advanced the process of risk-based decision-making for environmental risks subject to EPA regulation. He also oversaw removal of the pesticide ethylene dibromide from U.S. agricultural use, reaffirmed EPA commitment to a federal-state partnership to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay, and helped EPA institute tighter controls on hazardous waste management.

Earlier in his career, Ruckelshaus had served as assistant attorney aeneral in the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice; as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives; and as deputy attorney general of Indiana. After completing his second term as EPA administrator, Ruckelshaus joined the Seattle law firm Perkins Coie, then served as CEO of Browning-Ferris Industries. He is now a principal in Madrona Investment Group, LLC, a private investment firm in Seattle, and a strategic partner for the Madrona Venture Group.

William D. Ruckelshaus in front of the EPA plane
Ruckelshaus being sworn in as the first administrator of the EPA. From left: President Richard M. Nixon, William Ruckelshaus, Jill Ruckelshaus (wife), Chief Justice Warren Burger. Wikimedia
Ruckelshaus with Dean Astrid E. Merget at the 2006 celebration and symposium.
50 years at O'Neill