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Administrative Law

John Sununu on Boyden Gray's Legal Legacy

C. Boyden Gray was a pivotal figure within the Republican Party on environmental law.


Yesterday's WSJ features an article by former New Hampshire governor and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu on the late C. Boyden Gray, with whom he served in the George H. W. Bush Administration.

C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush, died Sunday at 80—an unsung hero whose leadership was defined by his quiet, thoughtful determination. A key member of the Bush team, he deftly navigated the complex intersections of law, policy and politics. More than a lawyer, he was a skilled tactician and diplomat, bringing together diverse factions to create consensus around difficult issues.

Gray's legacy is perhaps most evident in his work on the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, a visionary law that pioneered the use of market incentives to curb acid rain, urban air pollution and toxic emissions. His negotiation skills convinced industry leaders and lawmakers of both parties. The law passed 401-21 in the House and 89-11 in the Senate, and it has guided environmental policy since.

As Sununu recounts, Gray was also heavily involved in the development and enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As it happened, one of my first environmental law research projects focused on the 1990 CAA Amendments, and the alternative fuels provisions in particular–provisions that were of particular interest to Gray. He had a particular interest in methanol, and helped ensure that alternative fuels provisions ended up in the final bill. (My research results in a chapter in the book Environmental Politics: Public Costs, Private Rewards, a version of which was published in The Public Interest).

It was only later that I got to know him–and became comfortable calling him Boyden. After he had returned to private practice I had the opportunity to work and interact with him on a range of environmental and administrative law matters and questions. We did not always agree, but I was always struck by his insight, knowledge and wit.

Boyden was a true giant in the fields of administrative and environmental law (and not just because he was so tall!). He demonstrated that one could take environmental protection seriously while maintaining a healthy skepticism of centralized federal power and adminsitrative regulation. His influence and presence in these fields will be missed.