RFK Jr. Preaches Environmental Courage
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
Noted environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. received a warm and enthusiastic welcome from his Sandhills audience Friday evening as he delivered a message of building an environmentally strong nation.
The son of the former attorney general and presidential candidate and nephew of President John F. Kennedy delivered the Sam Ragan lecture as part of the Ruth Pauley series at Sandhills Community College.
His topic was ""The Green Gold Rush: A Vision for Energy Independence, Jobs and National Wealth." Kennedy laid out a dream of a land rich with energy from non-polluting free sources like sunlight and wind.
He'd just arrived following a 17-hour return flight from Dubai, but his energy seemed unflagged as he spoke nonstop for an hour, then took questions from the floor, met with a long line of people and signed copies of his books.
The nation's real enemies, he said are the energy cartels that keep the country addicted to oil and coal. He attacked polluters and their pet politicians - "carbon cronies" he called them - for engineering a short-lived "pollution-based prosperity" that will cost future generations the earth.
Time magazine named Kennedy one of its "Heroes for the Planet" for his success in helping Riverkeeper lead the fight to restore the Hudson River. That spawned more than 160 Riverkeeper organizations around the world include a number in North Carolina.
"I started my environmental advocacy career working for commercial fishermen on the Hudson River," he said. "We have the oldest commercial fishery in North American on the Hudson - it's 350 years old. Most of the people I represent were families who'd been fishing the river since colonial times."
Their fisheries were being destroyed by polluters, and they decided to fight.
"We brought over 400 lawsuits on the Hudson against the polluters," Kennedy said. "We forced them to spend four and a half billion dollars, and as a result of that the Hudson today is the richest waterway in the North Atlantic. It produces more pounds of fish per acre, more biomass per gallon, than any other waterway in the Atlantic Ocean north of the Equator. Our miraculous resurrection of the Hudson inspired Riverkeepers all across North America."
Kennedy's constant theme was that good environmental policy is identical with good economic prosperity, that ending pollution spurs growth while pollution costs jobs. He mentioned his arrest last month outside the White House protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.
Kennedy described that pipeline project as "a huge, huge mistake" that would carry highly corrosive oil from Canada for markets in Asia not America. By taking up refinery capacity in the U.S., that oil would actually raise the price at the pump here.
"Huge subsidies (to oil, coal, and gas) tilt the playing field and give them an unfair advantage in the marketplace," Kennedy said. "Obama has promised again and again to end direct subsidies, but he has to get it through, particularly the Senate, which is really controlled by the oil industry, by Chevron and Exxon which give hundreds of millions a year. The good news is this: even with the subsidies we can still beat them in the marketplace."
The price of solar panels is dropping like a rock, he said. The price of wind-energy, even in Texas, is still cheaper even than gas. The lack of a national electric grid system is the biggest barrier to abundant cheap electricity produced in places like North Dakota from wind and across the Southwest from solar arrays. That cheap energy can't cross state lines because of the multiplicity of uncoordinated state regulatory agencies, and many state agencies are controlled by big interests.
"You have a DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) in this state that is the poster child for a captive of industry," Kennedy said. "That is an agency that is not protecting the public from pollution. It is the sock puppet for the big polluters in this state."
When Kennedy said Congress would do nothing, a questioner asked what they to do. His answer was to get involved in politics. In reply to another who asked if he was planning to run for office, he said he hadn't ruled it out, that he'd consider it "if I believe it's something that would be an effective use of my time." He'd turned down appointment to Hilary Clinton's Senate seat when she left to become Secretary of State.
Another questioner asked about fracking - the process currently being considered as a way to tap potential sources of natural gas in Moore and Lee counties. Kennedy had been on a study commission in New York, he said.
"The more we studied it, the scarier it got," he said.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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