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Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on the Nomination of William D. Ruckelshaus To Be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

March 21, 1983

The President. Good morning.

Over the past week, it has become crystal clear that there is one man in this country better qualified than anyone else to take charge of the Environmental Protection Agency. And today, I'm pleased to announce my intention to nominate that man, William D. Ruckelshaus, to become the next Administrator of the EPA.

No one could bring more impressive credentials to this important job than Bill Ruckelshaus. He has proven his ability and integrity as Deputy Attorney General and as Acting Director of the FBI. As the first Administrator of the EPA, he played a critical role in shaping and launching the Agency. He is staunchly committed to protecting the Nation's air and water and land.

I have given him the broad, flexible mandate that he deserves. Bill Ruckelshaus will have direct access to me on all important matters affecting the environment. I've also authorized him to conduct an agencywide review of the personnel and resources to ensure that the EPA has the means it needs to perform its vital function. And I've urged Bill to run an open, responsive operation, a goal that I know he shares with me.

Let me add a personal note. Back in the early 1970's, as Governor of California, I had the opportunity to deal personally with Bill Ruckelshaus as Administrator of the EPA. We were rightly proud of our State's environmental record, and in many ways, California led the Nation environmentally. But there are always going to be some things that could stand improving, and there are always bound to be some differences in policy and perspective between State and Federal authorities. In reconciling those differences, in enforcing the law, and in creating a constructive working relationship between his Agency and its State counterparts, Bill Ruckelshaus deeply impressed me. He was tough, fair, and highly competent.

Now, I'm proud of my environmental record as Governor of California, and I deeply believe that this administration has done a good job over the past 2 years. But I also believe that we can do better, and that after the dust settles and the country sees Bill Ruckelshaus at work in the EPA, our people will recognize that this administration's commitment to a clean environment is solid and unshakeable.

This nomination is, of course, subject to Senate confirmation. But I want to make it clear today, as this process gets underway, that Bill has my complete and unqualified support. He's the right man for the right job at the right time.

So, Bill, welcome aboard. And now I know you have a few words of your own to say.

Mr. Ruckelshaus. Thank you very much, Mr. President, for your kind remarks and for your expression of intention to nominate. That, of course, is dependent on my clearing all the various reviews that have to occur over the next g or 3 weeks before I will be able to actually get over to EPA and take charge.

And I witnessed—from the Pacific Northwest—some of the problems that my old Agency has had. And needless to say, I witnessed that from afar, and it did not occur to me until very recently that I would have anything to do about it. Last week, Mr. President, you asked me to consider helping out. And it's my belief, as a citizen of this country, if the President of the United States asks you to assist on a matter that's important to the country, you have an obligation to take that request seriously.

Naturally, it was sudden. The reason it has taken me 3 or 4 days to come to an affirmative decision on this request is because of the personal considerations involved. I had to discuss this at some length with my wife and family. And after having done so and resolved all those problems, and having discussed with the President, with Mr. Meese, and Mr. Baker their commitment to the environment, their commitment to the goals of this Agency, and the kind of support that the President has assured me and assured the country now that he would give me, I am delighted to accept his intention to nominate.

As far as my own views on the environment are concerned, the question of whether we are going to clean up the environment of this country is long over. That debate occurred back in the 1960's and resulted in all kinds of address to environmental problems by States and the Federal Government in a massive outflow of laws and regulations.

The question of today is not "whether," the question is "how"—how do we proceed to deal with this enormously complex mix of problems involving air pollution, water pollution, solid waste, and all of the problems that EPA has to deal with that affect public health and the environment?

I guess my immediate task, as I see it, is to stabilize EPA, is to re-instill in the people there the dedication to their task, to their job, that they have had from the outset of that agency and to get on with this enormously complicated job of cleaning up our air and water and protecting our citizens against toxic substances.

I believe that the President has given me the tools that I need to do the job, most important of which are his personal support. He has given me the flexibility to define the problems and to suggest solutions and, on that basis, I'm going to do the best job I can for him and for the country to divine and to serve the public interests.

I would be glad to try to respond to any questions, or either one of us would.

Q. We have one for the President first. Mr. President, let me—let us just ask you if you think that it was the philosophy that your appointees brought to the EPA or what they thought was your philosophy on the environment that caused some of the problems over there in the first place? That's been suggested.

The President. No, my philosophy has been one and the same. It's been the same since I was Governor of California: to enforce the laws and to use common sense in doing this. And very frankly, I think that the attack that was leveled was unwarranted.

Q. But some of the folks that were there seemed to be tilting toward business because they thought that's what your administration wanted.

The President. I think that was a misreading and, as I say, I think a misunderstanding. All that I've ever proposed is that we be fair.

Q. Somehow you're getting tougher, though, now, Mr. President. Will your policies become more, say, pro-environment now with the mandate that you've given Mr. Ruckelshaus?

The President. They've always been proenvironment.

Q. Are they changing at all starting now? The President. I'm too old to change. [Laughter]

Q. Mr. President, will Mr. Ruckelshaus be able to be truly independent of both interference from the White House on political grounds and interference from industry? Does he have a mandate to be independent of that kind of interference?

Mr. Ruckelshaus. Let me try to respond to that. When I was there before there were always—a constant flood of speculation, charges about various industrial intervention into EPA. There was never any substance to it when I was there, and there won't be any substance to it now.

It is our job, my job, the job of that agency to serve the public interest. That includes all of the public. And when we have charge—we are charged with regulating a segment of our society, we're going to do so fairly. It's very important to underscore "fairly." We are going to do our best to interpret the mandate that Congress has given us and interpret that in a way that achieves environmental improvement in this country. I don't think that necessitates confrontation. I don't think it necessitates us shaking our fist at anybody. It entails a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication to seeing that those laws are properly administered.

Q. To follow up, what do you think of the testimony that has been heard on Capitol Hill about political interference, about Dow Chemical rewriting reports in the past? What about the stewardship of the agency so far?

Mr. Ruckelshaus. Well, my concern is the future, not the past. My concern is the future of that agency and to ensure that it does its job.

To the extent that any charges are leveled, I have no idea whether they're right or wrong. We will do the best we can to investigate the substance of those charges, and if they prove to be correct, why, appropriate action will be taken. But I don't want to prejudge that, because I have no idea.

Q. Mr. President, a lot was made last week of your statement about environmental extremism and trying to turn the White House into a bird's nest. I mean, is that the way you feel about environmentalism?

The President. No. But as in any movement, there are going to be zealots on both sides who are going to want something more than what is happening. And I think Bill has been answering this question, in a way, with what he was saying about the purpose. There are some people, and they've always been there, who are so zealous that they literally would stop all progress. But by the same token, why don't you give some circulation to a remark that I made when I was Governor? I said, "There are also people in the country that believe that they won't be satisfied unless they can pave over the entire countryside."

Now, that was an extreme statement, too. But it was about those people that believed that in the name of progress it warranted destroying the purity of our waters and the quality of our air and so forth.

Q. Do you feel, sir, though, that the environmentalists have legitimate concerns about what's been going on at EPA? Are there any legitimate concerns there? You say the charges are unwarranted.

The President. I think the—and then we have to leave with this one. I'm sorry. But wait a minute—because you'll all have another crack before the week is out. I'm going to come back here for a press availability, so we'll do it then.
But—[pauses and laughs]—in trying to calm you-

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. Oh, the understanding about the things up there.

I think one of the things that set some of those committees off was the fact that the Superfund for the clearing up of toxic waste dumps—now, if you understand and go back, you've got to remember that there was a time when the so-called toxic waste, and not too long ago, was being simply disposed of the way we've disposed of any kind of garbage—put it in a hole some place, do this with it and that. But it was not being villainous or venal; we didn't understand those drugs or those things. It was like in California, not too many years ago, discovering, for the whole Nation, what caused smog. No one had known before. And so things were done without evil intent.

Now, there are thousands and thousands of those dumps throughout the country. And the EPA has the task of not only finding and identifying all of them but then determining which constitute the most immediate danger and, therefore—because you can't deal with all of them at once-going to work on a priority basis on those.

And evidently, there were some disputes-and particularly on the part of some on the Hill—as to whether right decisions had been made on some of these. I think that they had made sizable progress and were well underway toward establishing-they had already some several hundred that they believed were the prime and the priority dumps to be cleaned up.

And this is what I think all of the fuss was about. And I would like to point out that in all the allegations and everything—accusations, just like so many other things, no one has presented any facts at all.

Q. Why so many resignations then—and firings?

Q. Mr. President, Jim Watt—

Deputy Press Secretary Speakes. We are going to have to stop this.

Q. Why do you have so many resignations and firings?

Mr. Speakes. You are using up—

Q. Let us have a question in the back of the room, please.

Mr. Speakes. Sarah [Sarah McClendon, McClendon News Service], I think it ought to be—listen, you are using up your press availability right now.

The President. I'll make a deal with you.

Q. Yes, sir?

The President. You'll be the first one in the press availability, before the week is out, that I will call on.

Q. But when will that be?

The President. What?

Q. We don't know when that's going to be. [Laughter]

The President. It's going to be this week.

Q. What day? [Laughter]

The President. I don't know. We haven't determined the day yet.

[At this point, the President left the Briefing Room. ]

Q. Mr. Ruckelshaus, one question?

Mr. Ruckelshaus. Sure, I'd be glad to.

Q. Mr Ruckelshaus, after years on the industrial side of the fence, have your views toward regulation changed any since you were at EPA?

Mr. Ruckelshaus. When my views on regulation and on the environment and the protection of the public health changed, to the extent they've changed, was when I was at EPA. I went into EPA with a lot of assumptions about scientific certitude, about pollutants, about our ability to measure them, about our ability to abate them with the technology that was available at a reasonable cost, and the only thing necessary to gain compliance with the environment was to start enforcing the laws.

After I got there and after I was, frankly, there about 3 months, I discovered this problem was a lot more complex than I realized when I first arrived, and that we have a whole mix of extraordinarily complicated, difficult problems to solve under the calmest of circumstances. And when you add to that complicated mix the emotion that can be generated around some of these problems, it just becomes four or five times as complicated.

Q. What about this agency review that you're going to be conducting? The budget has been cut deeply at EPA the last couple of years, some say disproportionately. A lot of people who are sympathetic to the administration's goals say there aren't resources over there. Might your agency review lead to rethinking that question?

Mr. Ruckelshaus. Oh, it well might. But I'm certainly not going to prejudge that. These are the kinds of questions that I will have to deal with in confirmation, that I will have to deal with, frankly, when I get to the agency and better understand it. And I think that, rather than prejudge any of that, I'd better wait until I'm there.

I think that in order

Q. Do you have a free hand—

Mr. Ruckelshaus. Yes, I do. I have a free hand.

Q. in picking all your deputies?

Mr. Ruckelshaus. In order to make sure that I'm able to answer all of these questions in the framework established by the laws, I think I'd better wait till confirmation. So, thank you very much.

Q. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:32 a.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on the Nomination of William D. Ruckelshaus To Be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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