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Anne Gorsuch Burford

Anne Gorsuch Burford (April 21, 1942 July 18, 2004), also known as Anne M. Gorsuch, was an American attorney and politician. Between 1981 and 1983, while known as Anne M. Gorsuch, she served under President Ronald Reagan as the first female Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


Early life and education

Born Anne Irene McGill in Casper, Wyoming, she was one of six children of a surgeon and grew up in Denver, Colorado, where she attended St. Francis DeSales High School.[1]

During three consecutive summers, she took classes in Spanish at the National University of Mexico.[2] She studied at the University of Colorado at Boulder, earning a bachelors' degree in 1961 at the age of 19. She then attended the University of Colorado Law School where she gained a law degree in 1964 at the age of 22.[2][3] McGill participated in the undergraduate Honors Program and Mortar Board society, and was an editor of the University of Colorado Law School s law review.[2]

She married David Gorsuch after finishing law school. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study criminal law for one year in Jaipur, India,[2] and she and her husband travelled there together. The couple would had two sons and a daughter.[3]

Early legal and political career

Gorsuch was first employed as an attorney with a bank trust department, then as the deputy district attorney in Denver, Colorado, and finally as a corporate attorney for Mountain Bell. Between 1976 and 1980 Gorsuch served in the Colorado House of Representatives, where she was voted Outstanding Freshman Legislator,[2] but was considered by some to be a member of the "House Crazies," a group of "conservative lawmakers intent on permanently changing government."[3]

In 1980, Gorsuch served on President-elect Reagan s transition team as a member of his Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations.[2] Shortly after Reagan was inaugurated, he nominated her as Administrator of the EPA. The nomination was unanimously confirmed by the Senate three months later, on May 5, 1981.[4]

EPA Administrator

Gorsuch based her administration of the EPA on the New Federalism approach of downsizing federal agencies by delegating their functions and services to the individual states.[5] She believed that the EPA was over-regulating business and that the agency was too large and not cost-effective. During her 22 months as agency head, she cut the budget of the EPA by 22%, reduced the number of cases filed against polluters, relaxed Clean Air Act regulations, and facilitated the spraying of restricted-use pesticides. She cut the total number of agency employees, and hired staff from the industries they were supposed to be regulating.[3] Environmentalists contended that her policies were designed to placate polluters, and accused her of trying to dismantle the Agency.[1]

In 1982 Congress charged that the EPA had mishandled the $1.6 billion toxic waste Superfund and demanded records from Gorsuch. Gorsuch refused and became the first agency director in U.S. history to be cited for contempt of Congress. The EPA turned the documents over to Congress several months later, after the White House abandoned its court claim that the documents could not be subpoened by Congress because they were covered by executive privilege. At that point, Gorsuch resigned her post, citing pressures caused by the media and the congressional investigation.[6] Critics charged that the EPA was in a shambles at this time.[7]

Looking back at her tenure several years later, Gorsuch expressed pride in the downsizing done under her watch and frustration at the program backlogs and lack of staff management skills that she encountered while at the helm of the agency.[5] She said there was a conflict between what she was required to do under a "set of commands from Congress", and what her own priorities were, although she felt that by the end of her administration, she had developed a way of resolving those conflicts. In her retrospective, Gorsuch admitted that she and her staff "were so bogged down in the fight with Congress over the doctrine of executive privilege, that the agency itself seemed hardly to be functioning", claimed despite appearances, the agency still functioned.[5]

Subsequent career

Gorsuch divorced her husband in 1982. In 1983, she married Bureau of Land Management head and rancher Robert Burford.

She was promised another job by Reagan, and in July 1984, he appointed her to a three year term as chair of the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere, a move which was blasted by environmental groups.[8] She came under criticism for describing the post as a "nothing-burger," and both the House and the Senate passed non-binding resolutions calling on President Reagan to withdraw the appointment. Ultimately, Burford chose not to accept the position.[9]

After leaving government service, she wrote a 1986 book about her experiences entitled Are You Tough Enough?[10] She worked as a private attorney in Colorado. A divorce from her second husband was pending when Robert Burford died in 1993.[1]


Anne Gorsuch Burford died from cancer in 2004 in Aurora, Colorado, aged 62. Her death was just a little over a month after Ronald Reagan's.

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