Reilly, William K.

July 11, 2011, 6:02 am
Source: EPA

William K. Reilly (1940-) served as the seventh Senate confirmed EPA Administrator between February 8, 1989, and December 31, 1992. caption EPA Administrator William K. Reilly Photo: EPA

Born in Decatur, Illinois, into a conservative, deeply religious household, Reilly was strongly influenced by his father, a highway construction steel merchant, who impressed upon him an interest in land, history (especially that of Abraham Lincoln's Illinois days), and justice through the example he set while young Reilly accompanied him to state and county auctions to peddle his steel culverts and bridge materials. Reilly's father then led his family from Illinois to South Texas when William Reilly was 10. There Reilly learned to appreciate the unique cultural and environmental problems associated with transnational environmental affairs. From the Rio Grande Valley, the Reillys moved to Fall River, Massachusetts, where he finished high school at Durfee High School. From Durfee he went on to Yale where he earned a B.A. in History. During his Yale years, Reilly took advantage of Yale's junior year abroad program to study in France. Reilly then earned a law degree from Harvard, completing a thesis on land reform in Chile. After law school, Reilly entered the Army and served a tour of duty (1966-1967) in Europe with an intelligence unit planning for the evacuation of U.S. troops from France. During that time, he married Elizabeth Buxton.

After completing his military service, Reilly returned to school at Columbia, where he earned a Masters degree in urban planning. In 1968, fresh from planning school and a four month project in Turkey, Reilly went to work for Urban America, Inc., where he worked to integrate century-old concerns for urban beautification with the concerns brought to the forefront of the American conscience by the civil rights movement - concerns which would grow into the environmental justice movement with which he dealt during his EPA Administration.

In 1970, Reilly became a senior staff member of the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) under Russell Train, who would later become the second EPA Administrator in 1972. Reilly moved from CEQ to become President of The Conservation Foundation, which merged with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1985. After the merger, he served as President of World Wildlife Fund until taking over the helm at EPA in 1989.

The Reilly Administration accomplished several important tasks between 1989 and 1992. EPA oversaw the crafting of new Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990. It pushed for leadership in international environmental affairs in the face of global political changes by establishing liaisons in eastern Europe, participating in trade negotiations to ensure that the environment was considered during the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), and encouraged the Agency to play a larger role in working with Mexico to address problems along the Mexican border both in environmentally and socially responsible ways. Reilly also encouraged EPA to continue to work with the regulated community to find voluntary ways to go beyond mandated emissions standards. Reilly also encouraged EPA to address regional pollution problems which forced the Agency to strive to design cross-media regulatory strategies. These strategies had been discussed but deemed too unmanageable and complex to devote vast amounts of energy in the face of more pressing needs by previous Administrations.

In a subsequent interview, Reilly suggested that perhaps the most significant failure was that EPA was unable to garner the unalloyed support of the Bush Administration during the second half of that Administration's term. This was largely due to the inability of the Agency to muster the politically valuable praise of the Administration's environmental efforts by environmental organizations. As a result, the Bush Administration chose to work more closely with elements of its constituency that would provide political support during the 1992 election season. As a result, EPA found its agenda stifled in the White House and its credibility compromised before Congress.

During the 1993-94 academic year Mr. Reilly served as the first Payne Visiting Professor at Stanford University's Institute for International Studies and delivered five public lectures on the challenges to the global communi­ty.

In 1997, Reilly co-founded and became the president and chief executive officer of Aqua International Partners, an investment group that finances the purification of water and wastewater in developing countries, and invests in projects and companies that serve the water sector.  Aqua International is sponsored by the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation and is part of the Texas Pacific Group, an investment partnership based in Fort Worth and San Francisco, which invests in environmental, airline, apparel, health, wine, technology and other companies in the United States, Latin America and Asia.

On May 21, 2010, following the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil platform about 50 miles southeast of the Mississippi River delta on April 20, and the subsequent oil spill, Reilly became co-chair of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling and significantly shaped its subsequent reports and recommendations. 

Further Reading

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