Babson Center for Global Commerce

A Wm. Polk Carey Pre-Business Program

Former EPA chief and business leader to speak on business and the environment


Lee Thomas, former EPA Administrator and corporate executive

Lee Thomas, C’67, who started his professional life as a South Carolina juvenile parole officer and retired with a résumé that includes running the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and serving as the chief executive officer and chairman of the board of a multi-billion dollar forest products company, will discuss the sometimes contentious relationship between business and the environment on September 17 at 4:30 p.m. in Gailor Auditorium.

The lecture, titled “The Intersection of Business and the Environment: Much Conflict, Yet Even Greater Opportunities,” is free and open to the public. Thomas is the Babson Center's Bryan Viewpoints Speaker Series presenter for the Advent semester. The event is co-sponsored by the Environmental Studies Program and the Department of Forestry and Geology.

Lee M. Thomas rose to prominence in environmental issues during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Brought to Washington to serve as an official in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after rising to the leadership of the South Carolina Division of Public Safety Programs. At FEMA, he was selected to lead the federal response to news that a small Missouri town, Times Beach, had been heavily contaminated with dioxin by a waste disposal contractor.

His success in dealing with the Times Beach disaster led to his appointment as an assistant administrator of the EPA in charge of toxic waste cleanup. President Reagan named him to the job after dismissing his original appointee, Rita Lavelle. Lavelle was fired amidst charges of  mismanagement of the Federal  cleanup program.

Thomas was credited with getting the cleanup program, known as the “Superfund,” back on course. In 1985, he was appointed by President Reagan as Administrator of the EPA.

As chief of the EPA, Thomas played a leading role in three major environmental success stories – the orders requiring the rapid phaseout of lead additives to gasoline and the banning of most uses of asbestos (a group of carcinogenic minerals), and the EPA’s leading role in the creation and ratification of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The enactment of the protocol is considered one of the world's greatest environmental protection successes.

After the Reagan Administration, Thomas began a business career that included senior management positions at Georgia-Pacific a major paper and wood products firm. From 2007 until his retirement in 2012, he was chairman of the board and chief executive officer at Rayonier, one of the biggest owners of forest land in the United States and a leader in the development of high-value products made from cellulose.  He is a director of Airgas, Inc., the Regal Entertainment Group, and DuPont, Inc.; and he is a member of the board of the World Resources Institute.

This August, Thomas and three other former Republican-appointed EPA administrators co-authored a New York Times opinion column urging support for President Obama’s plan to take executive actions to curb climate change. (“A Republican Case for Climate Action,” NYT, August 1, 2013).

Among the actions the former administrators supported are executive measures to strengthen the Montreal Protocol, to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, and to increase investment in clean energy.

Thomas is a member of the University's Board of Regents. He lives in Jacksonville, FL with his wife, Dorothy.


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