Russell Train – “Towering Figure”

“Russ Train was a towering figure in conservation for more than half a century,” said Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International.  But Train was not only a leading figure in international conservation efforts, he was also a seminal figure in efforts to bring environmental protection to the forefront of policy making, not only in the United States but throughout the international community.

Train was probably the most influential person in the US in the late 1960s and early 1970s on promoting a vigorous federal presence for protecting the environment and public health.  Because he was Richard Nixon’s top advisor on the environment, he was perfectly situated to effect an agenda that the public had been increasingly clamoring for ever since Rachel Carson‘s Silent Spring so thoroughly catalyzed the world’s thinking.  In Train’s own words:  “That environmental agenda was so wide-ranging, and yet so comprehensive, as to be without precedent in the history of the United States.”   (That’s from his 2003 memoir, Politics, Pollution, and Pandas.)

Nancy Sutley, the chair of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, said this:  “On his watch, the United States stood up many of our landmark safeguards for public health and the environment, from implementing the National Environmental Policy Act to achieving early reductions in air pollution from automobiles. In the process, he helped to cement a bipartisan tradition of American environmental stewardship and shaped the direction of the Environmental Protection Agency during its formative years.”

In celebrating the life and work of a lion like Russell Train, it is also sadly necessary to note that the long tradition of bipartisanship on the environment in American politics has been, for all intents and purposes, killed by the Republican Party.  What is so ironic in saying that here is that Train was a rock-ribbed Republican all his life.

You need only look at the website of the Republican candidate for President.  Let me know if you find anything there that affirms the right of the American people to have clean air and water.  Let me know if you see any mention of climate change.  Not only does the candidate have nothing but opprobrium for the environmental agenda and initiatives of his opponent, but the Republican campaign is being substantially buttressed by an all-out effort by the fossil fuel special interests to bar the incumbent from being re-elected.  The NY Times recounted this in a recent story:  $153 million spent so far on ads excoriating the President’s clean energy policies.

I am as rock-ribbed a Democrat as Russell Train was a Republican.  That is why I am particularly proud that someone of Train’s stature and integrity, William K. Reilly, was good enough to write the eloquent foreword to my book.  Reilly is also a Republican but, regrettably, of a dying breed within his party.  He has always been a staunch and effective environmentalist and remains very much so even in the teeth of the climate denialism and antipathy to EPA and its critical work that is emblematic of the GOP today.

All Americans should be grateful for the life and work of so honorable, creative and productive a man as Russell Train.

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