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Message from the President

Hail and Farewell to Environmental Pioneer John Dingell

John Dingell and Russell Train
John Dingell (right) shaking hands with
Russell E.Train (left) at an ELI
symposium commemorating
the 40th anniversary of NEPA.

The country has lost a patriot and a giant of the U.S. Congress with the passing of John Dingell on February 7. Describing himself as “the runt of the litter” in his class when elected to Congress from Michigan in 1955, he was the longest serving member of Congress ever when he retired in 2014. Mr. Dingell made extraordinary contributions to the quality of American life as a leader in the expansion of health care, civil rights, and the protection of natural resources and the environment. He and the committees on which he served or chaired produced the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and legislation on marine mammal and ocean protection to name a few.

Regarding his record on the environment, he said he was proudest of his authorship of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which he developed along with Senator Scoop Jackson of Washington state. That law, an eloquent and straightforward statement of U.S. environmental policy, gave rise to a rigorous public process for evaluating environmental impacts of government projects that has been an enduring feature of the U.S. legal architecture for the environment and that has been copied around the world. In 2010, ELI hosted a symposium and reception at the U.S. Capitol to mark the 40th anniversary of NEPA, now turning 50. He and the late Russell Train, who was charged with implementing Mr. Dingell’s new law when Train headed the Council on Environmental Quality, both attended the reception and recounted the inside stories of the legislative negotiations and maneuvering that led to the law’s passage. 

In an interview by former ELI President John Cruden, Mr. Dingell spoke of his deep commitment and dedication to America’s government, its economy, and the legal systems that allow both to function well together. That interview is one of the ELI series on the pioneers of environmental law and can be viewed here. Those of us lucky enough to have met him were not surprised when he took up Twitter in his retirement, and his wit and tart commentary attracted a new following. We at ELI send our sincere condolences to his wife, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who now represents the 12th District, and to their family. Hail and farewell to a great leader and champion for the environment.

—Scott Fulton