Ruckelshaus Demands Firm EPA Enforcement

In this speech to EPA staff, administrator William Ruckelshaus made is famous comment that the EPA was the "gorilla the closet." What Ruckelshaus meant was that state enforcement of environmental laws was credible because the EPA could be brought in -- or rather, out -- in the case that state governments were not adequately carrying out enforcement. If, on the other hand, the states "open the closet and find nobody there, or somebody who won't come out, that doesn't do them any good... They need us. They'll complain and scream, but if they don't have us, they are dead." This was Ruckelshaus's second time as administrator. He was brought back to the agency after the previous administrator, Anne Gorsuch, was forced to step down after a series of scandals that included lax enforcement. Even after Ruckelshaus was brought back in, the agency was slow to return to aggressive enforcement due to the lingering shadow of the Reagan administration. Ruckelshaus sought to light a fire under his staff: "The elements of a strong enforcement program are here -- absolutely here -- you not only have my support, you've got my demand that something be done."


Environmental Protection Agency


William Ruckelshaus, "Ruckelshaus Demands Firm EPA Enforcement," EPA Journal, March 1984.