Russell E. Train, Conservationist Who Helped Create the E.P.A., Dies at 92
By KEITH SCHNEIDER
Published: September 17, 2012
Russell E. Train, a renowned conservationist who played a central role in the creation of groundbreaking laws and effective enforcement in response to rising concerns about environmental protection in America, died on Monday at his farm in Bozman, Md. He was 92.
Charles Harrity/Associated Press
Russell E. Train was E.P.A. administrator from 1973 to 1977.
His death was announced by Carter Roberts, the president of the World Wildlife Fund, which Mr. Train helped transform into a global force for conservation.
From 1969 to 1977, as Richard M. Nixon’s first chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and then as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under Gerald R. Ford, Mr. Train was among a select group of senior administration officials and Congressional leaders who shaped the world’s first comprehensive program for scrubbing the skies and waters of pollution, ensuring the survival of ecologically significant plants and animals, and safeguarding citizens from exposure to toxic chemicals.
Mr. Train was widely considered the father of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the cornerstone of all modern federal environmental legislation. Its signature provision was the look-before-you-leap requirement for federal agencies to prepare environmental impact statements before proceeding with any major project.
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 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.
Mr. Train’s emergence as a central player in environmental policy, regulation and advocacy was made possible by a convergence of national need, personal passion and astute career management.
Mr. Train, a moderate Republican lawyer raised in a prominent Washington family, was 45 when he resigned midway through a successful term as a United States Tax Court judge in 1965 to become president of the Conservation Foundation. His goal was to fashion a professional career out of a decade-old desire to shelter African wildlife and natural habitat, an idea prompted by safaris he took to East Africa in 1956 and 1958.
The move coincided with the rise of the environmental movement, which was pushing to turn the ecological and public health consequences of industrialization — pollution, exposure to toxic chemicals, clear cutting and loss of native species — into national priorities.
Mr. Train had already gotten a taste of the rewards and the rigors of his new job. In 1961 he founded the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation, an international organization to train Africans in wildlife, habitat and national park management. He had run it out of his judicial office when he was not on the bench. That year he also became a founding board member of the World Wildlife Fund’s United States affiliate.
Mr. Train had an entrepreneur’s instinct for nonprofit success. For the Conservation Foundation, he recruited prominent board members, hired talented staff, built programs around novel ideas, raised money and attracted attention. 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.
In one effort he joined with Ian McHarg, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, to produce “Design With Nature,” the seminal 1969 book on incorporating the principles of ecology into landscape construction. 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.
His Republican credentials proved crucial to Mr. Train’s success. In 1968, he was chairman of a bipartisan task force on environmental issues for President-elect Nixon’s transition team. In January 1969, just before the inauguration, Mr. Train sat next to Mr. Nixon at a dinner at the Pierre Hotel in New York, where the two talked about the power of environmental issues to galvanize voters.
“I emphasized that concern for the environment cut across geographic boundaries and across economic groups,” Mr. Train wrote, “and suggested that an environmental agenda could be a unifying political force.”
Mr. Train joined the administration as under secretary of the interior. In that post he tested the environmental impact statement process by coordinating the government’s work in setting rigorous engineering and environmental protection standards for the design and construction of the 789-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline. He led the opposition to building a new Miami airport within the boundaries of Everglades National Park, and helped develop the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, which encourages states to preserve and restore wetlands, estuaries, beaches and coral reefs as well as the fish and wildlife living there.
Mr. Train was the administration’s spokesman in 1969 during Congressional hearings on the proposed National Environmental Policy Act, which called for establishing the White House policy council. In 1970, after signing the law, President Nixon appointed him the council’s chairman.
Mr. Train also pursued international programs that put the United States at the forefront of a global effort to protect the planet. In 1972 he led the American delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the first large gathering of world leaders to consider environmental degradation.
A year later, at the height of the Watergate scandal, Mr. Train became administrator of the three-year-old Environmental Protection Agency, replacing William Ruckelshaus, who had been named interim director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Under Mr. Train, the E.P.A. banned four particularly toxic farm chemicals (aldrin, dieldrin, heptachlor and chlordane) and instituted auto emission limits. He recruited economists to forecast the costs of environmental rules. And he established the agency’s scientific capacity to evaluate the health consequences of exposure to toxic compounds, the basis of the E.P.A.’s process for assessing the risks and benefits of its actions.
In 1991, President George Bush gave Mr. Train the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.
Russell Errol Train was born in Jamestown, R.I., on June 4, 1920, and raised in Washington, the youngest of three boys of Rear Adm. Charles Russell Train and the former Errol Cuthbert. His paternal great-grandfather had been a congressman during the Civil War. An ancestor, John Trayne, had emigrated from Scotland to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635.
Mr. Train went to the Potomac School and then St. Albans (learning to hunt on family vacations in the Adirondacks). He graduated from Princeton in 1941 and Columbia University Law School in 1948.
A man of exquisite manners, he was trained in the ways of Washington from an early age. His father had an office at the White House, where he served as President Herbert Hoover’s Naval aide. In 1932, Mrs. Hoover invited Mr. Train and his older brothers, Cuthbert and Middleton, to spend the night at the White House, where they slept in the Andrew Jackson bedroom and breakfasted with the president and Mrs. Hoover on the portico overlooking the Ellipse and the Washington Monument.
“I think what made the greatest impression on me,” he wrote years later, “were the tall glasses of fresh California orange juice. I had never seen anything like those large glassfuls before.”
Mr. Train is survived by his wife of 58 years, Aileen; three daughters, Nancy Smith, Emily Rowan and Errol Giordano; a son, Charles Bowdoin Train; and 12 grandchildren.
Mr. Roberts, the World Wildlife Fund’s president, said Mr. Train became chairman emeritus of the group 12 years ago.
“He came into our headquarters every week,” Mr. Roberts said in an e-mail. “He prowled the hallways in a pinstripe or a seersucker suit, always with a handkerchief jutting out of the pocket, and poking our staff to get more done quickly. You could always rely on Russ to be practical and unconventional at the same time. Even in the last five years, he was always a voice as an ex-E.P.A. administrator in defending the role of the E.P.A.”