Douglas Costle, Who Helped Create the E.P.A. and Then Ran It, Dies at 79

Douglas Costle, Who Helped Create the E.P.A. and Then Ran It, Dies at 79


Douglas M. Costle, who helped draw up the blueprints for the federal Environmental Safety Company and served as its administrator when it tackled poisonous waste websites and fluorocarbons and monitored radioactivity from the Three Mile Island nuclear catastrophe, died on Jan. 13 at his dwelling in McLean, Va. He was 79.

His spouse, Elizabeth, mentioned the trigger was problems of a stroke.

Appointed to go the company by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, Mr. Costle (pronounced KOSS-tul) recruited 600 scientists and different professionals inside two months of taking workplace at what was already the federal government’s largest regulatory physique. He was instrumental in creating the so-called Superfund to decontaminate poisonous waste websites after the Love Canal well being disaster close to Niagara Falls, N.Y., and oversaw a $400 million settlement with United States Metal to curtail air air pollution.

At his first information convention, Mr. Costle introduced the recall of 135,000 Cadillacs as a result of they’d failed to satisfy minimal requirements beneath the newly minted Clear Air Act.

“Clear air shouldn’t be an aesthetic luxurious,” he mentioned when he turned E.P.A. administrator. “It’s a public well being necessity.”

Mr. Costle was the administrator when the company banned aerosol spray fluorocarbon gases in 1978 and when it was assigned the lead position in monitoring the discharge of radioactivity after the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear energy plant reactor in Pennsylvania in 1979.

In 1978, after in depth research, he had accredited a cooling stystem for the Seabrook nuclear energy plant in New Hampshire, which used seawater, after explaining that his company’s position was restricted to assessing whether or not water heated by the reactor on the plant would hurt fish and vegetation.

In Washington, and earlier in Connecticut, the place he was the environmental safety commissioner from 1972 to 1975, Mr. Costle typically struggled to reconcile fierce challenges by business lobbyists and litigators with complaints from impatient environmentalists as he proposed and carried out largely untested legal guidelines. It was a time when, as he put it, “only a few folks may outline the phrase ‘ecology.’ ”

As E.P.A. administrator, a place he held till 1981, Mr. Costle was within the vanguard of the federal authorities’s efforts, not all of them profitable, to outline security metrics for poisonous chemical compounds and metals and implement limits, whereas the White Home was additionally weighing the inflationary impression of regulation.

He superior the comparatively novel argument that environmental regulation spurred financial growth as a result of it preserved sources. He acknowledged, nevertheless, that among the fledgling motion’s early efforts, significantly on the state stage, resulted from “an period of improvisation.”

“It wasn’t simply drafting a doc and throwing it out for a coverage debate, casting thy bread upon the waters to see how soggy it will get,” he mentioned in an interview for the federal company’s oral historical past program in 1996. “We needed to make the summary work.”

“To me,” he added, “this represents a key precept of public service. It’s not a political sport. Ultimately, success is measured by getting one thing carried out that makes a distinction for the general public good.”

In a New York Times Op-Ed article in 1983, Mr. Costle recalled a good friend warning him earlier than he joined the E.P.A. that even when he did his job proper, “you’ll have 60 p.c of the folks mad at you at the least 50 p.c of the time.”

After Mr. Carter was defeated for re-election in 1980 and Mr. Costle left the company, he joined an environmental testing firm, served as dean of Vermont Regulation Faculty from 1987 to 1991 and unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for United States senator from Vermont in 1994. He moved to McLean in 2003.

Along with his spouse, Elizabeth (Rowe) Costle, he’s survived by a daughter, Caroline Costle; a son, Douglas Jr.; and three grandchildren.

Douglas Michael Costle was born on July 27, 1939, in Lengthy Seashore, Calif., to George and Shirley (Ellinghaus) Costle. His mom was a medical administrator, his father an engineer.

He was raised in Washington State, the place his appreciation for nature was nurtured throughout fishing journeys together with his father to Spirit Lake, close to Mount St. Helens.

“Rising up within the Pacific Northwest,” he recalled, “you nearly took as a right that the air would stay clear and the water fishable and swimmable — the targets acknowledged within the ’70 Clear Air Act and the ’72 Clear Water Act.”

He earned a bachelor’s diploma in historical past from Harvard in 1961, graduated from the College of Chicago Regulation Faculty in 1964 and labored as a trial lawyer within the Justice Division’s civil rights division beneath Lawyer Normal Robert F. Kennedy. He additionally served within the Military Reserve, in army intelligence.

After Richard M. Nixon was inaugurated in 1969, Mr. Costle was recruited by a good friend to the White House Advisory Council on Executive Organization. He performed a serious position in conceptualizing the environmental company, which Nixon created by government order in December 1970.

Mr. Costle had hoped to be named assistant administrator for coverage, however he was handed over — as a result of he was a Democrat, he believed. He turned a guide to the company as a substitute.

His legacy as a state commissioner included what turned referred to as the Connecticut Plan, which calculated fines for industrial polluters on the premise of how a lot cash they saved by failing to adjust to environmental laws.

Throughout his tenure in Washington, Three Mile Island and Love Canal turned battle cries for the environmental motion.

Within the mid-1970s, a quarter-century after the Hooker Chemical Firm stopped utilizing Love Canal, in upstate New York, as a dump web site, suspected carcinogens had been discovered to be leaching via the soil into the backyards of houses constructed on the banks of the filled-in ditch dug by William Love, who had deliberate a mannequin neighborhood there on the finish of the 19th century. Lots of of households needed to be relocated by the federal authorities because it confronted a completely new environmental problem.

“It’s one factor to take care of gross air pollution you possibly can see, the place rivers catch on hearth, or there’s a heavy plume from a smokestack,” Mr. Costle mentioned in 1996. “All people can visually perceive that. What is way more durable to grasp is the ever present presence of poisons within the setting, the place you don’t but know what the long-term well being results or the mechanisms are.”

Mr. Costle turned a number one advocate for the Complete Environmental Response, Compensation and Legal responsibility Act of 1980, the so-called Superfund regulation, which has financed the cleanup of a whole lot of hazardous waste websites nationwide.

On most points, although, Mr. Costle was considered a pragmatist. His strategy typically antagonized exponents who had stronger views, a technique the opposite, in regards to the setting and authorities regulation.

“I believed that a very powerful factor was to get details on the desk,” he mentioned. “My motto is, ‘Information are pleasant.’ Individuals with totally different political philosophies can come to the identical drawback and attain related conclusions, until they’re ideologues.”



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