William Ruckelshaus Honored with Presidential Medal of Freedom

William D. Ruckelshaus is one of two Northwest heroes of conservation recognized by President Barak Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented to Ruckelshaus and the other honorees, including the late Billy Frank, Jr., at the White House on November 24th.

Bill Ruckelshaus was the founding administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, given the mission to enforce the nation’s new Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. He undertook enforcement actions against big industrial polluters and severely polluted cities, set health-based standards for air pollutants and standards for automobile emissions, and banned the general use of the pesticide DDT. Thanks to that action and a lot of habitat protection, bald eagles are gathering by the hundreds again on the Skagit River.

Here in the Northwest, he had the vision for a collaborative, science–based effort to restore Puget Sound that led to development of the Puget Sound Partnership, which he helmed from its founding in 2006 until 2010.

Ruckelshaus also demonstrated his commitment to public service and integrity as Deputy Attorney General. During the Watergate crisis, Ruckelshaus and Attorney General Elliot Richardson chose to resign rather than fire the Watergate special prosecutor. Their principled stance was a pivotal moment for the Justice Department and galvanized public opinion for upholding the rule of law. He continues to advance his legacy of collaborative problem solving in his current role at the University of Washington and Washington State University.

Read about the other Washington honoree, Billy Frank, Jr., here.