Eric O. Stork, an Environmental Protection Agency regulator who tangled with the auto industry over automobile air pollution standards, died Feb. 2 at his home in Arlington County, Va. He was 87.
The cause was kidney failure, according to his daughter, Nancy Keener.
Stork, who was once described in a Washington Post headline as “a career bureaucrat who wanted to make a difference,” specialized in monitoring compliance with EPA regulations. For eight years in the 1970s, he watched over automakers’ compliance with the EPA’s rules on exhaust emissions. He became known as “The Iron Duke” and “Mr. Clean Air.”
In early 1978, he was “removed” from his job at the EPA, ending his federal career at age 51. “Fired is more accurate, but that’s not the way it was put,” Washington Post columnist Haynes Johnson wrote at the time.
Eric Oswald Stork was born Jan. 8, 1927, in Hamburg, Germany. He was sent to Britain as a child, came to the United States at 13 and grew up in the state of Washington. He served in the U.S. Army near the end of World War II and graduated in 1950 from Reed College in Oregon. He received a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University in upstate New York in 1951.
Stork told The Post that as a student, “I asked myself the question . . . what can I do to make a dent?
“I figured that given the years I had to live, the biggest difference in our lives is going to be made by the government, the federal government. So if you want to make a dent, you’ve got to go where the dents are made.”
Stork came to Washington in 1952 and worked at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Food and Drug Administration and the EPA, where he was head of mobile source pollution control.
He was always a committed believer in the merits of government regulations.
“In our day and age complete laissez faire is just impossible,” he told The Post in 1978. “There are social goals that must be achieved. Clean air is one, job safety is another, clean food and safe drugs — all of these things, and all of them cost money. No company in a competitive situation can afford to spend money on these things unless it has confidence that its competitors will do so also.”
After leaving the EPA, Stork taught at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., for two years. He then settled in Arlington, where he helped friends and neighbors with computer and software problems.
Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Dorothy Sams Stork of Arlington; four children, Nancy Stork Keener of McLean, Va., Judith Stork Kittleman of Salida, Colo., Kevin Curtis Stork of Arlington and Elle Stork Rolfe of Seattle; a sister; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Stork never spoke publicly about his dismissal, except to say that he disagreed with the Carter administration about how best to clean up America’s air. But he continued to defend the importance of environmental regulations in the complex, modern world.
“One thing that’s changed about government today,” Stork told The Post, “is the attitude toward regulations. Right now everybody condemns regulation as bad, and I think that’s a terribly naive point of view.”