Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony of William D. Ruckelshaus as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

May 18, 1983

The President. I want to take this opportunity to thank Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker and Senators Stafford and Randolph for their successful efforts in expediting Bill's confirmation. I personally appreciate their efforts as well as the unanimous vote of confidence that was given Bill by the Senate.

Thirteen years ago, under another Republican administration, the Environmental Protection Agency was formed to preserve and enhance the quality of America's most precious assets—our air, land, and water. Its creation signaled a new awareness of the ecology and the impact of urbanization and industrialization on the quality of our lives.

EPA was fortunate to have as its first Administrator an extraordinary public servant who gave direction and momentum to the fledgling environmental agency. His assignment, not an easy one, was performed with dedication, integrity, and a balanced understanding of the Nation's needs. He soon became known—and with good reason—as "Mr. Clean." And today, at a time when we're opening a new chapter in the history of this agency, I can't imagine anyone who's more qualified or better suited to be at the helm once again than "Mr. Clean," Bill Ruckelshaus.

Bill, speaking for many Americans, welcome home.

You helped set this nation on a course we still follow today—a course that has brought many tangible signs of progress. The quality of air in the United States, especially in our cities, is better today than it was 13 years ago. Streams, rivers, and lakes all across the country are becoming cleaner. Regulations are now in place that come to grips with the problems of hazardous waste disposal. Progress is being made in cleaning up the abandoned chemical dumpsites which mar the countryside. And yet, as you and I have discussed, we must do even more to protect and cleanse our environment.

There are many areas of immediate concern, but let me single out four that I would like you to address as quickly as possible in your new post.

First, many of us, both here and in Canada, are concerned about the harmful effects of acid rain and what it may be doing to our lakes and forests. So, I'd like you to work with others in our administration, with the Congress, and with State and local officials to meet this issue head-on. At a time when spending in other areas must be curtailed, we've already asked for an increase of 112 percent in research funds for acid rain. People on both sides of the border must understand that we're doing what's right and what's fair in this area.

Second, accelerate efforts to put the Superfund to good use, cleaning up those hazardous dumps that present an imminent or serious threat to human health. We've made progress, but we must make still more. Let's pledge that no American will be held hostage or exposed to danger because of bureaucratic snafus or legal disputes over responsibility.

Third, consistent with the point I just made, we need a sorting-out process to determine the areas of authority between the various levels of government. I've always thought that protecting the environment was something in which the State and local governments could and should play an important role. When I was Governor of California, I was proud that our State led the way in many aspects of this battle, including the laws concerning air pollution. I hope you can focus on this and provide us with a better idea of who is best equipped to handle specific areas of responsibility.

Fourth, we must ensure that the laws concerning this vital area continue to be vigorously enforced. We expect nothing less than full compliance with the letter and spirit of the law.

Bill, recently a fine group of EPA career professionals came to the White House for an informal meeting with members of my staff. We had an opportunity to spend some time talking about the ways EPA can be improved so as to better fulfill its mandate. I was impressed with their professionalism and dedication to the mission of the Agency. I will restate for you what I told them: You have my total support in your difficult job of enforcing and administering our nation's environmental protection laws.

With your leadership and the assistance of EPA's fine career professionals, and with a good working relationship with State and local environmental agencies, I'm confident we will accomplish our goal: the protection of the health and well-being of the American people. Too much time has already been wasted in fault-finding, recrimination, and innuendo. Today we mark a new beginning.

So, Bill, I'm counting on you, in your daily performance of your duty, to reaffirm this administration's firm commitment to a sound and safe environment and an EPA that is trusted and respected by all. And I thank you very much for taking this assignment.

Mr. Ruckelshaus. Mr. President and Members of Congress, distinguished guests, I want to thank all of you for attending.

Many of you, on very short notice, have come from afar, many as far away as the other coast. Many of those who have come here today were present at the creation of EPA some 12 1/2 years ago. And it was at that time in a ceremony similar to this that I accepted the charge from then President Nixon to launch EPA.

My daughter, Cathy, who held the Bible for me this afternoon, was 10 years old and in the fifth grade. And next month she will graduate from Princeton. She ably represents our family, many of whom, including my wife, were here last week waiting for the Senate to act. [Laughter] The budget took precedence, and they're now in Seattle, but with us, certainly, here in spirit.

Bill Rehnquist, Justice Rehnquist, who performed the honors today, 12 years ago was a colleague of mine at the Department of Justice, where we both served as Assistant Attorney General.

Mr. President, you were then Governor of California, a State with an environmental record that was lighting the way for the rest of the Nation. It was your leadership in California that provided the spur to the Federal Government and got the whole country moving toward coping with environmental degradation.

Since 1970 the highlighted problems of EPA have changed, but its basic mission is the same: to protect the public health and the natural environment. Recognizing the importance of this mission, Mr. President, you have provided me with the basic tools necessary for success. You've charged me with helping you find the best people available to do the job and with assessing the needs of EPA and asking Congress for the resources necessary to carry out their statutory mandates.

You've told me to operate in the sunlight, so that all can understand and participate in EPA's policy formation and decisions. Mr. President, while we both think the basic laws of EPA can be made to work better, we recognize the final arbiter of the shape of the law in this country is the Congress. That body, so ably represented by those present here today, makes the laws. It is my job to enforce them as written.

I pledged to the Congress in my confirmation hearings, and will do so here again today, that I will consult closely with them in seeking to administer and refine our statutory base. Hopefully we at EPA can regain the trust of Congress and achieve the administrative flexibility that I, and others before me in this job, believe is essential if the public interest is to be served.

Mr. President, today you have charged me with some specifics: Get on with the problem of acid rain and toxic dumps; make sure everyone understands the laws will be enforced; and help sort out the role of the Federal and State governments so the people at both levels can stop second-guessing one another and get on with their job. I take these charges very seriously. They will be vigorously pursued.

Most important, Mr. President, you have pledged to me and the people at EPA your total support in taking on this job. Without your support, I cannot succeed, and with it, I will not fail.

As you noted, in your remarks, EPA has impressive professionals with a high dedication to their mission. Many of the able people of EPA were there when we started over 12 years ago. We have much to learn from their collective wisdom, and with their help this country can continue to progress toward our environmental and health goals.

Mr. President, it is my sense that the people of EPA who have stayed with it from the beginning are there because of their belief in the fundamental importance of their mission. EPA was not created to deal with the usual mix of social problems, whether they be poverty, jobs, housing, education, crime. In a real sense, EPA's mission transcends all of these. That mission is the preservation of life itself. The career people of EPA recognize better than the rest of us the necessity of harmonizing their mission with the essentials of the life they're trying to preserve. They know the single-minded pursuit of any social goal to the exclusion of all others can cause severe societal distortions. They are willing and uniquely able to help our country avoid those distortions if so charged.

You have charged us here today, Mr. President. You have told us to pursue our mission with wisdom and dispatch. We accept your direction. I can say to you, Mr. President, and to the Congress, which confirmed me, that I appreciate your support and trust. And as I pursue the public interest, which is often so elusive at EPA, your support will sustain me. And in that pursuit, I pledge to you and to the Congress and to the American people that I will never break your trust.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 4:08 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. Prior to the President's remarks, Supreme Court Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist administered the oath of office to Mr. Ruckelshaus.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony of William D. Ruckelshaus as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives