Especially given the increased political polarization of environmental issues in recent years, it is sad to note the passing of Russell Train, a former EPA administrator under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, who played a vital role in launching Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.
Train died Sept. 17 at the age of 92, and is widely recognized as one of the most important U.S. conservationists of the last half century. A Republican lawyer who was appointed to the U.S. Tax Court by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1957, Train became deeply interested in wildlife conservation after several safaris in Africa in the late 1950s.
He went on to hold important leadership positions in the newly created World Wildlife Fund, and later The Conservation Foundation, during the 1960s.
At a time when environmental issues were rising as a major national concern, Train held several key positions in the Nixon administration, where he was instrumental in the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, which is sometimes considered the nation's environmental Magna Carta and requires federal agencies to complete environmental impact statements to determine how their actions would impact the environment.
Under Nixon, he became the first Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and in 1973 he became the second administrator of the fledgling Environmental Protection Agency, a position he held through the Ford administration, after which he returned to the World Wildlife Fund. At the EPA, he was a driving force in the implementation of recently passed laws to reduce air, water and toxic pollution. He banned several highly toxic pesticides and began requiring emission controls on cars and requiring permits for wastewater dischargers.
In that role he also helped to launch efforts to clean the Chesapeake. In 1973, he joined the late Sen. Charles "Mac" Mathias for a portion of the Republican senator's boat trip around the Bay to highlight growing concerns about the health of the nation's largest estuary.
That trip led to legislation by Mathias requiring the EPA to conduct a multi-year study of the Chesapeake — a study that ultimately led to the creation of the state-federal Chesapeake Bay Program partnership in 1983.
In announcing the launch of the Bay study, Train called the Chesapeake "a very troubled estuary" and warned that without action "the Bay would be in very bad trouble in a few years."
"The delicate balance of the Bay's ecosystem is facing many critical challenges due to increasing pressures from industrial development, housing and other construction, from changes in the bay's salinity and from contamination by sediment, untreated sewage, pesticides and other toxic chemicals that pour continuously into the bay," he said.
It was a time when bipartisan majorities in Washington could still come together to address environmental problems. It seems very long ago, now. Yet Train continued to strive toward that goal for the rest of his life.