Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; President, World Wildlife Fund
William Reilly’s early interest in land use and “the intersection of nature and the built environment” led him to earn a master’s degree in urban planning after law school and military service in Vietnam. He then joined the staff of the new federal Council on Environmental Quality and later headed the World Wildlife Fund. He led the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush. During his tenure, the Administration supported long-overdue amendments to update the Clean Air Act including innovative use of emission trading to regulate sulfur dioxide emissions causing acid rain as well as important international initiatives in Eastern Europe and Mexico.
Reilly regrets that too little regard is now given to science, the foundation for environmental laws. Even the increased emphasis on pollution prevention by progressive businesses “is a message that has not successfully penetrated the halls of Congress.” He believes the public’s “aura of contentment and complacency” stems from the perception that we have solved the most pressing problems, but this may change when crises like extreme weather conditions occur more often. He also emphasizes the benefits of bringing people together to work on local projects like Mount Hope Bay or the Corpus Christi harbor cleanup project where people with diverse interests but a common attachment to the resource can find solutions.
Reilly is a Senior Advisor to TPG Capital, an international investment partnership and serves as board member or advisor to many business and nonprofit organizations. He co-chaired the commissions to investigate the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As a professor at Stanford, he respected the students’ sophisticated thinking about the environment. Although many young people doubt the professional rewards of government service, Reilly points with pride to a 40-year record of American environmental success: “Look at what we set as our priorities, and name one where we have not made very significant progress.” Not bad advice for those who want to make a difference.