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President Bush, argues Robert Kennedy Jr., will go down as the worst environmental president in the nation’s history

When Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was born he hit the jackpot: brains, looks, fame, opportunity, and affluence were his to inherit. With what he’s been handed, he’s etched out his own role in the Kennedy tribe as a steadfast and outspoken environmental lawyer.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

As the son of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, grandson to Joseph Patrick Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald, nephew of President John F. Kennedy, and cousin to the late JFK Jr., he sits in the inner circle of what some call American royalty. Yet Robert Kennedy Jr. has concentrated on environmental pursuits. He is the president of Waterkeeper Alliance, and works as chief prosecuting attorney of the Hudson Riverkeeper, a watchdog group that aims to keep the Hudson pollution-free. A prolific writer and speaker and professor at Pace University School of Law, Kennedy is also senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Kennedy is especially passionate about global warming. And it’s safe to say that humans are to blame. In this interview he unearths the dirt on global warming and why President Bush will go down as the worst environmental president in our nation’s history.

What do you think is the biggest environmental concern of today?

The biggest concern is George Bush, and if you ask any of the leaders in the environmental community five years ago what was the biggest concern, they’d give you a range of issues from global warming, habitat destruction, and overpopulation. Today, they’ll all tell you the same thing — it’s this White House. This is the worst environmental White House we’ve had in history. They’re in the process of dismantling 30 years of environmental law.

Why will President Bush go down as the worst environmental president in our nation’s history?

Over 400 environmental rollbacks have been promoted or implemented by this White House over the last four years as part of a deliberate, concerted effort to eviscerate 30 years of environmental law. The stealth attack the White House has used — all kinds of clever machinations — to conceal its radical agenda from the American public, but including Orwellian rhetoric. When they want to destroy the forest they call it the Healthy Forest Act. When they want to destroy the air they call it Clear Skies. Most insidiously, they’ve put polluters in charge of virtually all the agencies that are supposed to be protecting us from pollution.

How many years do you think it will take for the environment to recover after the Bush administration?

Well, some things will never recover, but it’s hard to tell the future. It depends on what type of an administration we get. If we get campaign-finance reform and if we get journalistic reform in this country, the chances are much better.

You said some things may not recover.

There have been 1,200 miles of rivers buried by mountaintop mining. Those rivers won’t ever see the light of day again. The administration will have destroyed an area the size of Delaware — the Appalachian Mountains — that will never recover for tens of thousands of years.

What can be done on a very practical level to stop global warming?

I think we need fuel-economy standards that get us up to 40 miles a gallon. One-mile-per-gallon improvement will yield more oil than two Arctic National Wildlife Refuges. Eight miles per gallon in our fuel economy would yield more oil than we’re importing from the Persian Gulf.

Some people in the Republican Party don’t buy the global-warming thing. What do you say to them when they say that it might be due to a natural cyclical warming of the Earth?

Unfortunately there’s been a huge propaganda campaign that’s in many ways been accepted by a gullible press. There’s virtually no global independent scientist or mainstream scientist left who will agree with that point of view. That point of view is voiced by a marginalized and infinitesimally tiny minority of scientists. Twenty-five hundred top meteorological and climatological scientists in the world signed on to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s pronouncement that global warming is real and it’s happening right now, that we are causing it and its impacts are going to be catastrophic. Unfortunately we have a gullible press in our own country and reporters who don’t do their jobs.

Do you think these people are in denial?

I think the industry has paid hundreds of millions of dollars into a propaganda campaign that works. It persuades the press. One of the guys who designed this campaign, and I’ve written extensively about him, came originally from the tobacco industry. It’s a public-relations product. There are literally tens of thousands of studies that all confirm that this is happening. The Arctic ice cap has lost 40 percent of its thickness in 20 years. The summer ice will be gone within 20 years. The glaciers are melting on every continent.

What do you imagine will be the environmental concerns in five years, 10 years, 20 years from now?

Global warming, but mercury is a big issue. In 19 states it’s now unsafe to eat any freshwater fish in the state. And asthma. One out of every four black children in New York has asthma. It’s an epidemic. All these issues aren’t going to remain as issues, but global warming will remain as an issue.

The biggest problem is democracy. Without a strong democracy and an independent press that’s willing to speak truth to power, you’re not going to get a clean environment. You’re going to get basically the corporate entities that want to control our air and water, privatize our air and water, and be able to get away with it. The biggest reform we need to start off with is to bring back the fairness doctrine that Ronald Reagan abolished in 1988, and that began the decline of the American press and the decline of ethics in journalism.

Do you think anything can be done to reduce the level of partisanship in environmental issues?

I’m nonpartisan and I support Democrats or Republicans. I’ll oppose them, too. The environment is not a partisan issue. There’s no such thing as Republican children or Democrat children.

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