Perhaps most famous for his resignation from his post as deputy attorney general rather than obey Nixon’s command to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate scandal, Ruckelshaus was the nation’s first head of the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. He held that position until 1973, and then was reinstated in 1983 when Anne Gorsuch resigned over a scandal of mismanagement of the EPA’ s Superfund program.
Ruckelshaus was appointed to run the EPA by President Nixon in 1970, where he helped the enactment of some of the country’s most ground-breaking legislation to protect the environment. He made sure the powerful Clean Air Act was passed through Congress, and he oversaw the consolidation of a bevy of separate environmental programs into one powerful federal agency.
His second gig as EPA head required that he restore confidence in an agency that was reeling from the Gorsuch scandal.
Ruckelshaus’s real glory came during what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” In 1973, as the deputy attorney general, he could fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor examining the Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon’s role in it. When Nixon demanded that Ruckelshaus do just that, he resigned.
Former President George W. Bush’s EPA chief, Christine Todd Whitman commended Ruckelshaus’s bipartisan dedication to the environment and justice, saying he was “a truly special person.”
“His passion for the environment, his devotion to our country, his willingness to work across aisle to do what was right is a model for all times,” she said in a statement.