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50 years of the EPA

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Fifty years ago, on December 2, 1970, Richard Nixon signed Executive Order 3, sweeping together 40+ Executive Branch agencies and entities that were overseen by about two dozen Congressional committees. This action created the Environmental Protection Agency. The President then appointed William Ruckelshaus, a Justice Dept official, as the first EPA Administrator. The EPA’s mission then, as it is now, was simple -- protect human health and the environment.

I recall that among the EPA’s first actions was to ban DDT, the controversial chemical that had been shown to harm the eggs of the iconic bald eagle, our national symbol. That act alone brought immediate credibility to the EPA and favor in public eye. It also short-circuited Senator Edmund Muskie’s (D-Maine) plans to pass a law creating a similar Federal entity.

When I joined EPA in 1984, I had already completed 25 years of Federal service and was not quite ready for the maze of regulatory functions that EPA carried out or the impact they had on American life. It was also a ‘stove pipe’ organization with stand-alone groups. Still, we persevered, undaunted by the inherent bureaucracy within any government agency and dedicated to our mission.

I personally enjoyed my transition and integration into the agency, ultimately retiring 17 years later as the Director of the Office of Federal Activities. Like so many loyal public servants over the last 50 years within the EPA, I’m proud to have served such a noble cause.

During my time with Dawson & Associates, we’ve been a champion for EPA compliance and helping clients recognize the inherent value environmental stewardship brings toward ensuring Americans have clean air, land and water. I’ve watched the dedicated career employees at EPA relentlessly ensure national efforts to reduce environmental risks are based on the best available scientific information and that Federal environmental laws are administered and enforced fairly, effectively and as Congress intended.

During these unprecedented times as a nation, which includes impassioned debate about climate change as well as a hyperpartisan political environment, it is more important than ever that the EPA be allowed to carry out its legal mandate to protect the environment and public health. There’s been 50 years of successful precedent to demonstrate that merit.

Dick Sanderson

Senior Vice President, Emeritus

A former Director of the EPA's Office of Federal Activities and Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA's Office of External Affairs, Dick Sanderson has been with Dawson & Associates since 1997.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dawson & Associates.

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