On Monday, October 15th I went to the memorial service for one of the truly great public servants of our age, the Hon. Russell E. Train. He is arguably the “father” of American and global second half 20th century conservation/environmental laws; as well as institutions and programs of such innovation, magnitude, and consequence as to boggle the imagination. He was also one of the most delightful, kind, and decent bosses I have ever had.
I first met him when I came over from my earlier White House job working for Pat Moynihan as his Special Assistant to work for Russ Train, also as his Special Assistant. At the time, he was the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality in the Executive Office of the President.
He had already achieved many landmarks. He had been a Tax Court Judge, Under Secretary of the Interior, and founder of the African Wildlife Fund.
He was the “guiding hand” in both the establishment of CEQ, the Environmental Protection Agency, and more notably, the Environmental Policy Act; the founding law that brought the innovative “Environmental Impact Statement” process into our legal system. Later, he lead the Conservation Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund where his contribution helped develop a new generation of environmental leaders and new efforts to deal with a wide range of assaults on our natural world.
I worked for him largely on international programs and polices, particularly the NATO Committee on Challenges of Modern Societies (CCMS). CCMS was one of the most innovative international efforts to engage the advanced countries of the world to closely consider the wide range of problems and to do so by direct useful hands-on projects.
Russ train was also a leader towards environmental cooperation with Russia, creating new environmental structures in the United Nations, and policies and instruments that was heretofore unprecedented. He was our leader at the break-through Stockholm environmental conference that finally established a truly global perspective on dealing with serious environmental threats to our vulnerable planet.
He was appointed to his government positions by Richard Nixon, who frankly was not really interested in environmental issues except as instruments of political advantage. Yet, Train was able to convince him of the wise decisions to support laws and agencies with real power and reach that stand today as bulwarks against the depredation of polluters. He was indefatigable and at several times defied Nixon and the White House to support the law’s direction and good environmental policies.
He was simply the most important individual in our nation in the last half of the 20th century; acting within the purview of official government as well as outside in defense of our global environmental.
And he was a Republican.
But he was a Republican of the cast of mind that no longer exists in the GOP party. He had a team of Republican colleagues with the same inclination of being dedicated public servants. Among these were Elliot Richardson (who I also worked with), Bill Ruckelshaus (who was the first Administrator of the EPA), and Senators Jacob “Jake” Javits and Kenneth Keating of New York, who both supported and worked for passage of civil rights laws and not to mention helped save me and others in a jail in the South that was run by the KKK. Others included “Mac” Mathias, Jim Jeffords, and former Vice President/N.Y. Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Many were, as was Russ, “patrician” by background, education, or character but wanted to create a better world.
In his last years Russ became totally disillusioned with the now far right GOP and its destructive attitude towards protecting our environment. He supported Obama for president when he saw the Republicans trying to destroy his good work and support those that would desecrate our natural heritage and wildlife – which today seems like the sole purpose of a party that included Teddy Roosevelt.
Today, we sadly have no GOP leading active national politician of the quality, integrity and caring of Russ Train. It is a great shame and tragedy for our nation and especially for constructive political leadership in a time when it is needed most (via bipartisan cooperation) to address so many serious crises; the same serious crises that, unfortunately, their far right successors have contributed to more rather than resolved or improved.
We must give, even as we are aghast at the policies of the Republicans today, honor and respect for the earlier generations of these decent Republicans for their lifetime of dedication and achievement. I mourn both the passing of a dear boss and colleague and am saddened by the “we shall not see their like again” reality.