Ruckelshaus, EPA's First Administrator, Tapped for Medal of Freedom

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy noted that William D. Ruckelshaus is the architect of many key EPA programs: banning DDT; setting the first air quality standards to protect public health under the Clean Air Act; establishing standards for cleaner cars and lead-free gasoline; and later launching the Superfund program and setting the agency on a course to address the challenge of acid rain.

William D. Ruckelshaus, the first and also fifth administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is one of 17 people who will be honored with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom on Nov. 24, President Obama announced this week. Others include professional baseball greats Willie Mays and Yogi Berra, Steven Spielberg, and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

The president's announcement credits Ruckelshaus as having "not only shaped the guiding principles of the agency, but also worked diligently to bring the public into the decision making process. Among the EPA's key early achievements under his leadership was a nationwide ban on the pesticide DDT and an agreement with the automobile industry to require catalytic converters, which significantly reduced automobile pollution."

Current EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy also praised Ruckelshaus in a Nov. 17 post on the EPA Connect blog, writing that 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," she added.

When he returned to lead EPA in 1983, Ruckelshaus launched the Superfund program, started work on Chesapeake Bay protections, and launched the agency on a course to address the challenge of acid rain, McCarthy wrote. She added that he "continues to advance his legacy of collaborative problem solving on tough environmental issues at the University of Washington and Washington State University."

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