The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday unanimously recommended confirmation of William D. Ruckelshaus as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Ruckelshaus was assured repeatedly during his confirmation hearings this week that he was a shoo-in for the job, and the only difficulty his nomination faced yesterday was tearing committee members away from budget deliberations on the floor.
Chairman Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.) held the session open just long enough for a quorum of nine senators to dash in and cast their votes in person. Five senators voted by proxy, and two recorded their votes after the session adjourned, making the final tally 16 to 0. The committee has 16 members.
The action sends the nomination to the full Senate, where Stafford said a vote might be scheduled as early as Tuesday. Ruckelshaus, who headed the EPA as its first administrator from 1970 to 1973, is expected to win easy confirmation.
"It is my hope that the appointment of Bill Ruckelshaus to head EPA is a signal that the nation is going to get a change in environmental policy," Stafford said. "Only time will tell whether that is so."
Ruckelshaus was named March 21 to succeed Anne M. Burford, who had resigned two weeks earlier amid allegations of mismanagement, political manipulation and "sweetheart" deals for industry under the "Superfund" hazardous-waste cleanup law.
In his confirmation hearings this week, Ruckelshaus vowed to run the EPA "in a fishbowl" to restore the faith of Congress and the public. But he made few policy commitments, and he declined to pledge his support for increases in the agency's budget.
EPA's critics have contended that without new policy direction and sizable budget increases the battered agency faces more trouble no matter who is at the helm.
In one significant policy reversal, Ruckelshaus testified that he would move aggressively under the Superfund law to clean up hazardous-waste dumps, without first attempting to negotiate settlements with generators of the wastes.
He also said he would give high priority to the question of acid rain, an environmental hazard that has become an international controversy and an increasing source of tension between the United States and Canada.
Environmental groups urged the panel to question Ruckelshaus closely on opinions he may have formed while serving for eight years as an executive with the Weyerhaeuser Co., a large forest products corporation.
Ruckelshaus responded that he had "resisted falling victim" to the adage of "where you stand depends on where you sit." But he said he would work to "narrow the gap" between the public and the private sector "where we stand and throw rocks at each other."