Photo source: National Archives
Administrator Gorsuch was the fourth administrator of the EPA. During her administration, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was signed into effect; schools began to be tested for the presence of asbestos; the Valley of the Drums disaster occurred; and dioxin contamination was discovered in Times Beach, Missouri. And there were scandals.
- “I believe that EPA can contribute greatly by seizing the initiative in two specific areas, regulatory reform and the new federalism. In the future, EPA will contribute to the decision-making process from the banks of this local, now much cleaner, Potomac to the local courthouses and the state capitals. We will desert an adversary role, and the EPA will seek to bring state governments in as full and active partners in the achievement of our environmental efforts … As to regulatory reform, it is my hope that the EPA of the Reagan Administration be remembered for the amount of money it has saved the taxpayer because we streamlined regulations, cut down on permit-processing time and we, together, cut back on the required paperwork for EPA projects … it is also vital that we shed the image of inflexible regulators and actually find ways to ease the paperwork and the reporting burden of businesses and community.” Anne McGill Gorsuch before EPA employees on May 21, 1981.
- Anne Gorsuch, to her credit and despite her critics’ arguments to the contrary, had very good management instincts. She believed strongly in devising a comprehensive management accountability system that used individual performance standards and state program grants to evaluate performance. The details, however, were left to others,
- As an engineer, I immediately leaped to find a solution. She was in legal jeopardy with no apparent support to finance her own defense. Stunned that Perry was, for a second time in my presence, putting his own ambition ahead of protecting Anne and therefore EPA’s reputation, I spoke up forcefully (my voice carries well). I addressed Anne directly, “You need to go to the President, have him give you a pardon and put it in your safe.” You could have heard a pin drop — this opinion, from an engineer, not a lawyer! There were mumblings around the table. Anne whispered something to me, but the only words that came through were, “I just love that man!” I was stunned. Clearly, Anne was referring to Ronald Reagan. Her inference was that she was completely secure in her belief that her love for Ronald Reagan would be returned by his loyalty and protection.
- Anne met with President Reagan in the White House to resolve the issue. Reagan’s top White House advisors wanted to invoke presidential executive privilege on the grounds that such a decision would compromise the case files as the inquiring committees were bound under their own rules to release the files publicly, thus compromising EPA’s legal bargaining position and proposed fines with industrial parties involved in Superfund sites. Edwin Meese, Counselor to the President (not be confused with the office of White House Counsel), was in attendance at Anne’s meeting with the President and argued forcefully that the files should not be released. Anne on the other hand argued that the files should be turned over to the committees — that it would be politically advantageous to the Administration to point the finger at those very same committees who were investigating EPA’s enforcement record and their hypocrisy by compromising the most important EPA enforcement cases being developed under Superfund. Anne lost the argument. Thus in a lame duck session of Congress on December 16, 1982, Anne McGill Gorsuch, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was found in Contempt of Congress.
- I am convinced that Anne would have weathered the political storm, even the Contempt of Congress citation that she didn’t cause, had Rita Lavelle not been fired — or had never been appointed AA in the first place. Even the mainstream media reported that her firing opened a Pandora’s box of accusations against us for wrong doing, sweetheart deals, and outright criminality. The reporting of the shredder was just icing on the cake for Reagan’s political opponents, though this issue immediately faded from public view because there was an iron clad explanation for why EPA had shredders to begin with.
- Press reports, particularly her hometown daily newspapers, were highly personal, callous, and downright brutal towards Anne, which I know hurt her deeply.
- At that moment, I think I knew on a very gut level that the game was up. Anne resumed her briefing, informing us that the Beltway environmental groups had divided up EPA with each assigned to bird-dog a part of EPA; the Office of Water drew the Izaak Walton League. Ironically, I thought, the Izaak Walton League was a member of my ad hoc advisory committee of environmental organizations. Anne then relayed a warning from some of her Republican congressional friends on the key committees that a plot was in place to try to trip up each of us who appeared before them to perjure ourselves. Anne then stated the obvious, that most of the Democrat majority members were attorneys, and that none of the presidential AAs were attorneys, and that we had to be extremely careful and well-prepared when we appeared before a House Committee. Quite forcefully, she admonished, “No matter how embarrassing the answer may be, always tell the truth!”
- Reagan’s “boys” saw the political difficulties Anne was creating for him, and their own neglect in the matter. They were determined to force her out, attempting to portray her resignation as a “graceful departure” to assuage the President while simultaneously orchestrating her forced resignation. Quite simply, Anne was gaslighted!
- Anne is quoted as saying, “I personally feel that it is government by allegation … if there is any wrongdoing, it ought to be formally investigated and the people ought to be put in jail or turned loose, one way or the other. I think that if we have government by allegation, we do ourselves (and our democracy) a disservice.” In fact, at the end of the day, no one was prosecuted for any offense except for Rita Lavelle for committing perjury before Congress. She spent six months at a federal correctional facility in Pleasanton, California for those convicted of a white-collar crime. Lavelle claimed, “I was framed.”