First Ever EPA Chief May Have Lied To Congress

Daily Caller News Foundation logo
Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
Font Size:

Environmentalist attempts to showcase Republican support for “climate action” this summer may be backfiring because of one former political appointee. The Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever chief administrator may have lied to a congressional committee about his ties to environmental groups.

William Ruckelshaus was appointed to be the EPA’s first administrator in 1970. He quickly gained renown among environmentalists for banning the chemical DDT, which he said could cause cancer.

In June, Ruckleshaus along with three other former Republican-appointed EPA chiefs, was brought before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to testify on the urgent need to address global warming.

During the hearing, Ruckelshaus and the other former EPA chiefs opined on the need to make major policy changes to stop global warming. Ruckelshaus later complained in an interview that global warming “is just so polarized.” He told E&E News that “Republicans on that committee — it’s a completely ideological position they take.”

But while the hearing itself was a pretty boilerplate affair, the questions posed by senators for Ruckelshaus to answer in writing after the hearing have raised some questions. Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter asked Ruckelshaus about his connections to environmental groups while he was heading the EPA under President Richard Nixon in the 1970s. Ruckelshaus subsequently ran the EPA for President Ronald Reagan.

“In what year did you first start fundraising for the Environmental Defense Fund? And how much money in total would you estimate you’ve helped raise for EDF?” Vitter asked.

“I have never raised money for EDF,” Ruckelshaus wrote back.

“Were you associated with any environmental organization at the time of your [DDT] decision?” Vitter pressed.

“No, and never while at EPA,” Ruckelshaus responded.

The former EPA chief may be denying involvement with environmental groups, but evidence obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation suggests that Ruckelshaus has fundraised for environmentalists.

TheDCNF obtained an undated fundraising typed on letterhead from Ruckelshaus’s office in Washington, D.C. The letter states that “EDF’s scientists blew the whistle on DDT by showing it to be a cancer hazard, and three years later, when the dust had cleared, EDF had won…. It’s well worth the $15 dollars it costs to join EDF.” The letter is also signed by Ruckelshaus.

An undated fundraising letter signed by William Ruckelshaus.

An undated fundraising letter signed by William Ruckelshaus.

Though there is no date on the fundraising letter, an EDF advertisement in Backpacker magazine from winter 1974 shows the cost of joining the group was $15. This advertisement was place just two years after EDF and the Audubon Society successfully campaigned to ban DDT in the U.S.

Neither Ruckelshaus nor the EDF responded to TheDCNF’s request for comment, thus neither could verify the date the fundraising letter was sent.

As to Ruckelshaus’s belonging to an environmental group while in office, a speech from 1971, the year before DDT was banned, the former EPA head gave a speech to the Audubon Society in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In the speech, Ruckelshaus said, “As a member of the Audubon Society myself, and knowing the impact of this chlorinated hydrocarbon in certain species of raptorial birds, I was highly suspicious of this compound [DDT], to put it mildly. But I was compelled by the facts to temper my emotions… Certainly, we’ll all feel better when the persistent compounds can be phased out in favor of biological controls.”

This speech was given on May 22, 1971. Ruckelshaus was appointed by Nixon to head the EPA on Dec. 2, 1970. So Ruckelshaus gave this speech to the Audubon Society, one of America’s oldest environmental groups, months after he was appointed to head the EPA.

Audubon, along with EDF, was a major supporter of a ban on DDT, which they said was killing birds and could be causing cancer in humans. DDT, or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, is a chemical substance used to kill mosquitoes, flies, fleas and other insects that invade crops and cause illnesses, like malaria and yellow fever, in humans.

DDT was effective at lowering malaria and other disease rates in the U.S. after it was introduced in the late 19th century. By 1959, the U.S. and Europe were virtually malaria free thanks to DDT, according to a 2004 report. But in 1962, author Rachel Carson released her book “Silent Spring,” which said DDT was linked to cancer in humans and was contributing to ecological collapse.

The fear caused by Carson set off a mass movement to ban the substance in the U.S. After the creation of EPA, environmentalists pushed the newly-formed agency to ban DDT use, sparking months of public hearings and inquiry into the effects of the chemical.

Judge Edmund Sweeney, who was tasked with overseeing months of hearings on the effects of DDT, issued a 113-page opinion in April 1972, saying, “DDT is not a carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic hazard to man.” Sweeney added that DDT’s uses under regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on fresh water fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds, or other wildlife… and… there is a present need for essential uses of DDT.”

But Sweeney’s stance against banning DDT was overruled by Ruchkelshaus — who reportedly never attended a single day of the DDT hearings and never actually read Sweeney’s report.

Ruckelshaus handed down a 40-page opinion on June 2, 1972, overruling Sweeney and declaring DDT potentially cancer causing.

Ruckelshaus later wrote to the American Farm Bureau Federation that his 1972 decision was ultimately based on politics, saying “the ultimate judgment remains political.”

The U.S. decision to ban DDT was used by environmental groups to force U.S. AID to convince to poor countries to stop using the disease-stopping substance. Gerald Sirkin and Natalie Sirkin wrote in The American Spectator that the “effects of giving up DDT were immediately felt in the malarial areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America… South American countries gave up DDT and suffered the customary rise in malaria. Ecuador, which manufactures DDT, resumed using it in 1993. By 1995, Ecuador had reduced its malarial cases by 61 percent.”

Follow Michael on Twitter and Facebook

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

All content created by the Daily Caller News Foundation, an independent and nonpartisan newswire service, is available without charge to any legitimate news publisher that can provide a large audience. All republished articles must include our logo, our reporter’s byline and their DCNF affiliation. For any questions about our guidelines or partnering with us, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.