The Senate yesterday confirmed William D. Ruckelshaus as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, clearing the way for his formal return to the job he held a decade ago.

The vote was 97 to 0, with three senators absent.

Ruckelshaus, in a statement issued through the EPA press office, said he was "deeply gratified by the Senate's expression of bipartisan support" and considered it "a clear signal that the American people expect me to waste no time in carrying out President Reagan's mandate."

"That mandate is to restore the public's confidence in the Environmental Protection Agency by vigorously pursuing our mission of protecting the public health and natural environment," he said. "With the administration's help, I intend to do just that, and I look forward to getting on with it."

Ruckelshaus is scheduled to take the oath of office today at the White House, with Reagan in attendance.

Ruckelshaus will succeed Anne M. Burford, who resigned March 9 amid an escalating controversy over whether the agency was protecting industry at the expense of public health and the environment.

A half dozen congressional panels are investigating allegations that agency officials manipulated the $1.6 billion "Superfund" hazardous-waste cleanup law for political purposes, that EPA officials drew up "hit lists" of scientists and career officials to be dismissed and that industry representatives were allowed to read and edit EPA reports on potentially hazardous substances.

In his confirmation hearings earlier this month Ruckelshaus pledged that there would be no hit lists, no political decisions and no "sweetheart" deals for industry during his tenure at the EPA.

Ruckelshaus, who was the EPA's first administrator from 1970 to 1973, earned a reputation for integrity during the Watergate scandal when, as deputy attorney general, he resigned rather than carry out a presidential order to fire the Watergate special prosecutor.

For the last eight years he has been a senior vice president for the Weyerhaeuser Co., a forest products firm. The industry connection has caused some concern among environmental groups, who urged the Senate to question him closely on positions he embraced as a corporate executive.