Thursday, February 24, 2011

Russ Peterson's Accomplishments

Russ Peterson was so well known here in Delaware, that we never quite appreciated the breadth of his accomplishments. The New York Times has published an obituary of Peterson that captures just how persuasive he could be. For instance, he served as President Nixon's advisor on environmental matters, even though he had stood up to pressure from the White House on his plans to block a Shell Oil refinery on an undeveloped stretch of Delaware coastline:
Mr. Peterson helped lead a task force whose work contributed to the global phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons, the organic chemicals widely used as refrigerants that contribute to depletion of the ozone. The best-known fluorocarbon is Freon, a DuPont product.

In addition to being the president’s principal adviser on environmental policy, Mr. Peterson helped shape the extensive environmental reviews, known as environmental impact statements that were mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970.
Governor Peterson would hold an honorable place in Delaware history if his legacy had ended on his first day in office, when he pulled the Delaware National Guard out of Wilmington. He went on to replace the moribund commission system of state government with a cabinet system, enact the Coastal Zone Act and tear down the last whipping post in the United States. He prompted Republican presidents to push for progress on the environment, and continued to be an effective advocate for the earth for decades to come.

He had a tart tongue at times, and along the way he had practical people explaining that whatever he set out to do just couldn't be done. But Russ Peterson had a remarkable ability to take on difficult issues and succeed. His engagement in the fight to bring wind power to Delaware gave us all a sense that this was another long shot that just might pay off.

Photo: Joyce Dopkeen, the New York Times


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