Red, blue and green

October 20, 2004

AT 84, and at a time when he could otherwise be savoring crisp fall days on his Talbot County farm, Russell E. Train is out on the campaign hustings in battleground states around the country stumping for what seems like a losing cause: a bipartisan consensus on protecting the environment.

A lifelong Republican and top adviser to presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Mr. Train was at the epicenter when environmental pollution first exploded as a political issue. He helped craft the sweeping regulatory protections Mr. Nixon enacted with support of the Democratic-led Congress, and he served as the second administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency before a 25-year stint as head of the World Wildlife Fund.

But during the past few months, Mr. Train has felt compelled to warn voters that he believes a 40-year trend toward greater sensitivity to the quality of air, water and natural resources around us has been put in reverse by President Bush. He contends Bush policies "to promote energy, mining and timber interests with little regard for environmental impacts and no commensurate emphasis on energy conservation represent a radical throwback to a bygone era of exploitation."

What's also troubling to him and should be to all Americans is that a vast partisan chasm now seems to divide the parties on environmental issues. The Grand Old Party of Theodore Roosevelt, probably the nation's greatest environmental president, has turned its back on its conservationist roots. Republican officeholders who list "green" concerns among their top priorities are a rapidly diminishing breed.

As a result, the environment has become almost a non-issue in this year's bitterly fought, razor-close presidential contest -- even though most Americans tell pollsters they support strong protections and tough enforcement. Only one question on the topic was raised during three presidential debates; not even local environmental controversies, such as offshore drilling, are expected to be influential in more than a couple of swing states.

It appears voters basing their choice for president on environmental issues long ago decided in favor of Democrat John Kerry. Some Bush supporters may agree with Mr. Kerry's more environmentally friendly approach, but are casting their ballot this year according to other pressing concerns, often national security.

Mr. Train, who is being honored in Annapolis tonight by the League of Conservative Voters for outstanding environmental stewardship, argues that environmental quality is a national security issue, as well as an economic issue and a health issue.

Americans shouldn't be cheated out of a vigorous national debate about how the United States is going to enhance its security with renewable resources.

Such questions are far too important to write off in the red states or cede to the blue states if this country is to have a future that's green.

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