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by Jessie Quinn, Ph.D.

Today, there is a growing awareness of the negative impacts of our footprint on the environment, but it took the championing of one man to bring us to this point. We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of one of the key architects of America’s many foundational environmental policies, Russell E. Train, who died this week at the age of 92.

Mr. Train rose to prominence at the onset of the modern environmental movement in the late 1960s, during a time when the nation was clamoring for the protection of natural resources and public health to be recognized as a national priority.

It would be difficult to overstate Mr. Train’s central role in the development of environmental protection as national policy.  In 1969, he lobbied for the establishment of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under Richard Nixon, and served as the Council’s first chair. Mr. Train also encouraged the Administration to launch the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee the nation’s new environmental laws, such as the Air Quality Act (later the Clean Air Act) and the Water Quality Improvement Act (later the Clean Water Act).  He played a principal role in composing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires full public disclosure of the environmental impacts of projects undertaken by all Federal agencies.  NEPA would later set the stage for the rollout of state-level environmental quality acts, including the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In addition, he lobbied for the formation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency dedicated to the research, preservation, and management of coastal ecosystems.

Following his work developing these key environmental agencies, Mr. Train served as Undersecretary of the Interior, where he promoted protection and restoration of coastal ecosystems by co-developing the Coastal Zone Management Act.  He eventually served as the chief administrator of the EPA under Gerald Ford, and oversaw the development of the EPA’s authority to scientifically assess the effects of pollutants and toxic chemicals on human health.

Interestingly, Mr. Train turned to environmental work mid-career. He had a distinguished career in government and law culminating in a presidential appointment as a U.S. Tax Court judge in 1957.  Around the time of his appointment, Mr. Train embarked on several safaris to Africa, which ignited his passion for conservation. He founded the Wildlife Leadership Foundation to help establish Africa’s developing national parks and eventually left his judgeship to become president of the Conservation Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to engaging the public in the integration of environmentalism and economic development.  He also served as a founding board member, president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). During his tenure at the WWF, he helped transform the once small group into a leading global conservation organization.

Russell Train leaves behind a prestigious legacy. He established our nation’s responsibility for protecting our environment and natural resources. His legacy extends far beyond the environmental regulations.

Today, environmental awareness and habitat restoration have become essential in modern business and social contexts. There also is a growing recognition of the financial importance of habitat restoration and ecological design and planning. Urban centers are commissioning public parks and open spaces, reintroducing natural ecosystems through innovative designs, such as urban food forests and vertical and rooftop gardens. The supporting data substantiates that not only does urban greening and ecological restoration boost local businesses and improve the well-being of urban residents, but also according to a report by the brokerage firm, CBRE, green office buildings are more lucrative and profitable than less environmentally conscious counterparts in terms of vacancy and rent.

Russell Train’s legacy is evident in all of Great Ecology’s projects as we help our clients seamlessly integrate ecological and environmental perspectives into their projects.

Visit the EPA and WWF websites for more information about Russell Train’s work.