Magazine article American Forests

Q&a: Russell Train, Green Legislation Pioneer

Magazine article American Forests

Q&a: Russell Train, Green Legislation Pioneer

Article excerpt

"If policy is too fragmented, it doesn't have to be. -By Florence Williams

Russell E. Train was Undersecretary of the Interior when President Nixon appointed him to chair the brand new White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in 1970. The mandate of the CEQ, which Train helped create, was to advise the President on the state of the environment, draft legislation and provide leadership on environmental issues of the day.

In 1973, Train became the second Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, a post he held through the Gerald Ford Presidency. He was instrumental is formulating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which required, among other things, that every proposed major federal action "significantly affecting the quality of the environment" had to be subject to an environmental impact analysis. Train also oversaw the passage and implementation of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and the creation of the Cancer Advisory Committee and National Pollution Discharge Elimination Permits. During his years as EPA administrator, catalytic converters became mandatory in automobiles, toxic pesticides were banned, the Everglades were saved from development, and the fragile Alaskan tundra was rescued from the damage that construction of the Alaska pipeline would have done to it had the pipeline not been required to run above ground for some of its length. Now 86 and retired, Train is also a founding trustee and past president of the World Wildlife Fund.

AF: You've said that the Nixon Administration's actions and Executive Orders relating to the environment represented the most comprehensive set of initiatives produced in any domestic area in American history. In retrospect, it's amazing. How did it happen?

Train: They were heady times looking back from the rather dreary picture today. I think it's quite remarkable we were able to accomplish what we did. There's no question that the Nixon period saw the most extensive initiatives in the environmental area that our government had seen before or has since. Of course, there was a lot of catch-up to do at that time.

Nixon was smart politically, and he saw the importance of environmental issues to the country, the upsurge of interest culminating in Earth Day in 1970. He was also determined to neutralize the Democrats on this issue, or to take it away from them if he could.

I've heard it suggested that industry was not prepared to oppose us. There was overwhelming support in those days [from the public, for passage of sweeping environmental legislation]. Certain elements of the business community were negative, but they didn't carry much weight. The energy crisis didn't hit until after most major initiatives were launched. Then the tide turned, and it was a matter of holding the ship afloat. These days the whole K Street lobbying effort is much more effective.

AF: You worked hard to Incorporate environmental considerations Into government policy. Can you elaborate on how you did that and what your hopes were?

Train: I was at Interior when the Alaska pipeline was proposed. The process highlighted the importance of taking environmental factors into account in decisionmaking. It was probably the largest single private construction project in history, crossing all sorts of public lands, and this was before NEPA. We laid down, in effect, a requirement that the pipeline had to be reviewed from an environmental standpoint Later on, that's what NEPA did.

AF: Around the time the EPA was created, there was some talk of creating a Department of Natural Resources or other cabinet-level environmental body instead. …

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