It’s not the passing of Russell Train – who died Monday at 92 – that we remember, but the life he led as a powerful, humble, principled warrior for the Earth.
Mr. Train was chairman of the newly created White House Council on Environmental Quality before President Nixon picked him to be the second head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a role that fully launched his career as a conservationist, recalls Joan Mulhern, a colleague of mine who worked with this remarkable man to protect the Clean Water Act.
A lifelong Republican, Mr. Train embodied what it meant to be a conservative conservationist, Joan said.
“Russell Train will always be known as a leader in the modern environmental movement – a real stalwart of Republican environmental and conservation principles,” she said. “He was a conservative conservationist – someone who conserves natural resources for future generations, instead of squandering them for polluters.”
Joan grew up in Vermont where Republicans have a tradition of being conservationists. “Mr. Train was of the same mind,” she said. “He was a special friend of clean water; an early leader in lobbying for the Clean Water Act as head of the White House Council For Environmental Quality. He lobbied for clean water and the law’s ambitious goal of ending the practice of treating the nation’s waterways as receptacles of waste and pollution. I don’t think he ever forgot that was the goal.”
In Joan’s opinion, the Clean Water Act wouldn’t exist if not for the strong support Mr. Train gave it over the 40 years since it was enacted.
In 2006, Joan worked with Mr. Train and other former EPA leaders to sign a friend of the court brief when the U.S. Supreme Court was considering the Rapanos case, which sought to severely narrow how the Act could be interpreted. “Mr. Train strongly supported our position that from beginning to end, from Republicans to Democrats, we always have supported a broad interpretation of the Clean Water Act,” she said.
As to the man himself, Joan said he was a “legendary public servant his entire life, and the nicest, smartest man. He was very firm in his convictions, but softspoken in his way of explaining them.”
Joan, who in her long career as a Washington, D.C. issues advocate has known many top political figures, said Mr. Train was at the top of the top.
“He was a genuine hero. We probably wouldn’t have had the Clean Water Act if it wasn’t for him.”
Personally, I only met Russell Train once – when he made his international debut at the first U.N. Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm. Only 24 at the time, and determined to be a cynic, I was disarmed by a few minutes of personal talk with him. He impressed me then with his genteel intellectualism, and on Monday, when he left this life, he left me smiling at the memory.