Costle, Douglas M. (1939 – ) American Former Director of Environmental Protection Agency

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Douglas M. Costle (1939 )
American former director of Environmental Protection Agency

An educator and an administrator, Douglas M. Costle helped design the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Richard Nixon and was appointed to the head of that agency by Jimmy Carter. Costle was born in Long Beach California on July 27, 1939, and spent most of his teenage years in Seattle. He received his B.A. from Harvard in 1961 and his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1964. His career as a trial attorney in the civil rights division of the Justice Department began in Washington in 1965. Later he became a staff attorney for the Economic Development Administration at the Department of Commerce.

In 1969, Costle was appointed to the position of senior staff associate of the President's Advisory Council on Executive Organization, and in this post was instrumental in the formation of the EPA. Although Costle lobbied to be appointed as assistant administrator of the new agency, his strong affiliations with the Democratic party seem to have hindered his bid. Instead he continued as a consultant to the agency for two years and an adviser to the President's Council on Environmental Quality .

The road that led Costle back to the EPA took him to Connecticut in 1972, where he became first deputy commissioner and then commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection in that state. He proved himself an able and efficient administrator there, admired by many for his ability to work with industry on behalf of the environment . His most important accomplishment was the development of a structure often called the "Connecticut Plan," where fines for industrial pollution were calculated on the basis of the costs that business would have incurred if it had complied with environmental regulations.

Carter appointed Costle head of EPA in 1977 as a compromise candidate during a period of bitter feuding over the direction of the agency (then at the center of a debate over the economic effects of regulation). But many environmentalists believed Costle's record proved he compromised too willingly with business, and they openly questioned whether he had the political strength to support environment protection in the face of fierce political and industrial opposition.

By May of his first year in office he was able to secure funding for 600 additional staff positions in the EPA, and under him much was done to provide a rationale for the regulations he had inherited and base them wherever possible on scientific data. Among other decisions Costle made while head of the EPA, he recommended a delay on the imposition of new auto emissions standards, allowed the construction of the nuclear plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire to continue despite protests, and oversaw the formation of an agreement with U.S. Steel on the reduction of air and water pollution .

Throughout his tenure Costle remained a strong proponent of the view that the federal government's responsibility to the environment was not incompatible with the obligations it had to the economy. He often argued that environmental regulation actually assisted economic development. Although conflicts with lobbying groups and hostile litigation, as well as increased controversy over the inflationary effects of environmental regulation, complicated his stewardship of the EPA, Costle continued to believe in what he called a gradual and "quiet victory" for environmental protection.

Costle went on to become chairman of the U.S. Federal Regulatory Council until 1981. He is now a retired dean of Vermont Law School in South Royalton.

[Douglas Smith ]



Langway, L., and J. Bishop Jr. "The EPA's New Man." Newsweek 89 (21 February 1977): 8082.

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Costle, Douglas M. (1939 – ) American Former Director of Environmental Protection Agency

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