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Thomas, Lee M. (1944 – ) American Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator

Lee M. Thomas (1944 )
American former Environmental Protection Agency administrator

If the 1960s and 1970s have become known as decades of growing concern about environmental causes, the 1980s will probably be remembered as a decade of stagnation and retreat on many environmental issues. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush held very different beliefs about many environmental problems than did their immediate predecessors, both Democrat and Republican. Reagan and Bush both argued that environmental concerns had resulted in costly overregulation that acted as a brake on economic development and contributed to the expansion of government bureaucracy.

One of the key offices through which these policies were implemented was the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 1985, President Reagan nominated Lee M. Thomas to be Administrator of that agency. Thomas had a long record of public service before his selection for this position. Little of his service had anything to do with environmental issues, however. Thomas began his political career as a member of the Town Council in his hometown of Ridgeway, South Carolina. He then moved on to a series of posts in the South Carolina state government.

The first of these positions was as executive director of the State Office of Criminal Justice Programs, a post he assumed in 1972. In that office, Thomas was responsible for developing criminal justice plans for the state and for administering funds from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration.

Thomas left this office in 1977 and spent two years working as an independent consultant in criminal justice. Then, in 1979, he returned to state government as director of Public Safety Programs for the state of South Carolina. In addition to his responsibilities in public safety, Thomas served as chairman of the Governor's Task Force on Emergency Response Capabilities in Support of Fixed Nuclear Facilities. The purpose of the task force was to assess the role of various state agencies and local governments in dealing with emergencies at nuclear installations in the state.

Thomas's first federal appointment came in 1981, when he was appointed executive deputy director and associate director for State and Local Programs and Support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). His responsibilities covered a number of domestic programs, including Disaster Relief, Floodplain Management, Earthquake Hazard Reduction, and Radiological Emergency Preparedness. While working at FEMA, Thomas also served as chairman of the U.S./Mexican Working Group on Hydrological Phenomena and Geological Phenomena.

In 1983, President Reagan appointed Thomas assistant administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response of the EPA. In this position, Thomas was responsible for two of the largest and most important of EPA programs, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act . Two years later, Thomas was confirmed by the Senate as administrator of the EPA, a position he held until 1989, when he became the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Law Companies Environmental Group Inc. Thomas then was employed as the Senior Vice President, Environmental and Government Affairs for the Georgia-Pacific Corporation. He currently is the President of Building Products and Distribution.

[David E. Newton ]



Thomas, Lee M. "The Business Community and the Environment: An Important Partnership." Business Horizons (MarchApril 1992): 2124.

. "Trends Affecting Corporate Environmental Policy: The Real Estate Perspective." Site Selection and Industrial Development 35 (October 1990): 1(1183)3(1185).

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