Conversation with a Conservative: Russell Train

Russell Train, head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Richard Nixon, explains that the Bush administration has declared “war” on the environment.


We’re at war in Iraq. They tell us we’re at war against terrorism. I’d say that George W. Bush has declared war on the environment. And I think that people ought to stand up and be counted in opposition to that.

I’m Russell Train. I’m chairman emeritus of the World Wildlife Fund. During the Nixon administration I was head of the EPA, and I’ve been a conservationist, environmentalist, for at least forty, fifty years now.

I grew up a Republican. You know, you sort of inherit these things. My great-grandfather was a Republican member of Congress during the Civil War. I certainly have always felt the Republican Party stood for conservative values.

The first National Park, Yellowstone, was created in 1872. Now that was a Republican year, right after the Civil War. General Grant, then the president, was the person you have to give credit to for Yellowstone. You can go back to Teddy Roosevelt and say he Roosevelt was a great conservationist. He created our National Forest and our national wildlife refuges and he took a strong interest in conservation. You get to Richard Nixon and you get a fantastic blooming of environmental interest and initiatives on the part of the administration. The EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, was a creature of Richard Nixon. The Clean Air Act of 1972, the Clean Air Act of 1970, ocean dumping controls, clean drinking water, the Noise Control Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, you name it.

So, during the Nixon administration and the Ford administration we accomplished a great deal. I was never officially part of the administration of George H.W. Bush – Bush the First. We were good personal friends and our families were friends. He asked me for advice on the environment; he asked me to explain the environment to him, although that wasn’t exactly an easy thing to do in a short while, but we sat down and talked in Florida for an hour or so. He really wanted to know. He entered the presidency with the intention of being a good environmental president. He sponsored the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, and that’s the law under which we live today. He had a very good environmental record, and his heart was very much in the right place on the issue.

I feel George W.’s heart is in the wrong place on this issue. Calling something the Clean Air Act, the Healthy Forest Act when what you’re really doing is opening up the forest to logging. It’s almost an ideological antagonism. And there’s no understanding, I feel, of the importance of this issue. It’s addressed from the standpoint of, “What is such-and-such a regulation going to do to a particular industry that is a pretty good contributor to our campaign cause. And I think that’s what’s motivated its approach to environmental matters.

No one in this campaign has a monopoly on so-called flip-flops. The president himself, in his debates before the last election, promised that his administration would proceed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. About three or four months later, I think in March, 2001, he said, “Forget it, we’re not going to do that.”

There has been a tendency on the part of this administration, this White House, to – some call it – distort science. And if they don’t like the science, they take out that particular finding. As I understand it, the EPA did do a study — at least a preliminary study, in New York, which showed some very troublesome, hazardous air pollutant problems. And they were told by – I don’t know whether the White House or the Council on Environmental Quality – to change those results

I think this administration is not a conservative administration. I think it’s a radical administration. It represents a radical rollback of environmental policy going back to a period many, many years ago. It’s backward.

The Bible has the Gold Rule. The Golden Rule says, “Thou shalt do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” To my way of thinking, those others include the whole community of this Earth, all the living things – and inanimate as well – and we damage that extraordinary structure at our peril. And I think that’s what we’re doing.

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.