R.I.P. Russell E. Train, 1920-2012, a giant of environmental protection

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Russell Train, a visionary conservationist who led the Environmental Protection Agency and pioneered the development of U.S. environmental law and policy under Presidents Nixon and Ford, died on September 17.  He exemplified how a conservative could support strong environmental protection. He criticized President George W. Bush for White House political interference with scientific integrity in decisionmaking. Late in his life he supported EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases against the attacks on the agency by his fellow Republicans.  He led a remarkable life and set a fine example of public service in the nation’s capital.

Juliet Eilperin reported in the Washington Post on September 18 (September 17 online)(excerpt):

Russell E. Train, former EPA head, dies at 92

Russell E. Train, a former tax court judge whose awakening on safari sparked a new career in environmental activism, as head of the nascent Environmental Protection Agency and as the first president of the World Wildlife Fund’s American chapter, died Sept. 17 at his farm in Bozman, Md. He was 92. …

Mr. Train was widely regarded as one of the most important American conservationists in the past half-century. He helped to craft some of the nation’s enduring environmental laws and to establish the agencies that continue to shape U.S.environmental policy.

Mr. Train embodied an earlier era in which conservatives embraced the label “environmentalist.” …

In 1970, he became the first chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, an advisory group serving the president and other top officials. …

The EPA was launched in 1970 with William D. Ruckelshaus as its administrator. When Ruckelshaus left to take over the FBI during the Watergate scandal fallout, Mr. Train was tapped to lead the environmental agency.

He remained its steady hand through the end of the Gerald R. Ford presidency in January 1977 and was credited with helping shape some of the nation’s landmark environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. …

From 1978 to 1985, he led WWF-U.S., giving him a platform from which he could advocate environmental protections worldwide. He pushed for two landmark international conventions, one of which established the concept of World Heritage sites, and another of which regulates international trade in endangered species. …

Mr. Train backed President George H.W. Bush enthusiastically, serving as national chairman of Conservationists for Bush in 1988. He was a sharp critic of President George W. Bush, saying that the White House had repeatedly interfered with agency decision making and ignored scientific expertise in crafting environmental policy.

During the Obama administration, Mr. Train worked behind the scenes to shore up support for EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and her ongoing effort to regulate greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change. During a private dinner in 2009, Mr. Train told her she was well within her authority under the Clear Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

Keith Schnieder reported in the New York Times (excerpt):

Russell E. Train, Conservationist Who Helped Create the E.P.A., Dies at 92

Mr. Train developed the idea of establishing the Council on Environmental Quality, a policy office within the White House. He also helped persuade the Nixon administration to create the Environmental Protection Agency, empowered to execute and regulate the nation’s new program of safeguarding natural resources and protecting public health.

“I felt strongly that environmental issues needed a sharp, cutting edge in government, one that had high visibility to the public,” Mr. Train recalled in his 2003 memoir, “Politics, Pollution, and Pandas.” And, he wrote, “this view finally prevailed.” …

[In] 1965 [he became the] president of the Conservation Foundation. … His message was that the nation needed a new approach to economic growth — that environmental values needed to be incorporated into public and private decisions about what to build and where to build it. …

Mr. Train also financed the work of Lynton Keith Caldwell, a professor of political science at Indiana University, which led to the development of the federal environmental impact statement.

In 1978, after leaving government, Mr. Train joined the World Wildlife Fund’s affiliate in the United States, first as president, then as chairman and chairman emeritus. He helped transform a small and effective conservation group into a $100 million-a-year global network of researchers and technical specialists, famed for its panda bear trademark.

At the World Wildlife Fund, which has a tribute to Mr. Train, a statement by CEO Carter Roberts includes this:

A Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, the second administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, a founding director of World Wildlife Fund, an architect of the modern conservation movement – he was a true national treasure and an inspiration to all of us who embrace conservation as their life’s work. …

Undoubtedly Russ would prefer that we not spend a lot of time mourning his passing. He would want us to redouble our efforts to save the animals and places we care about, to solve the problems of climate change and resource scarcity and to build leadership capacity in those countries where it’s needed most.

I never had the opportunity to meet Russell Train personally, but, like everyone else, I have benefited from his achievements.  He put down some substantial footsteps for others to try to follow in.

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