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Environmentalism vital to community,
Kennedy says


October 12, 2001

Dale Dempsey
Dayton Daily News

DAYTON -- Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who worked for years to clean up the Hudson River in New York, has been an environmental activist all his life, but to him protecting the land is "about more than fish and birds in their own right."

"Environmentalism is about community," he said Wednesday night. "It is about leaving to our children a community like our parents left us. If we don't, our children will pay." Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy, spoke to about 200 people at Sinclair Community College at the Miami Conservancy District's Watershed Symposium.

The author of a new book, Riverkeepers, Kennedy said the effort with the Hudson River could serve as a model for other activist groups.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently ordered General Electric to dredge the Hudson River to remove years of pollution it caused, a project that could cost a half-billion dollars.

"I support the dredging," Kennedy said. "There is much better science on the river than we've ever had before. Without dredging, it is estimated that people will not be able to eat the fish from the river for 100 years. By dredging, it is estimated that some species could be marketable in two years."

Kennedy is a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which along with the Sierra Club is seeking to join a federal lawsuit against AK Steel being tried in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

The group will assist the government with some pollution issues, he said.

Environmental litigation is about making companies pay the costs of the pollution they create, Kennedy said.

"All environmental laws are about imposing a free market on companies that are trying to externalize their costs," he said. "Companies like AK Steel make their communities poorer while making themselves richer. They force the public to pay part of their costs of doing business."

Kennedy, who spent a month in jail in Puerto Rico in summer for protesting the Navy's practice bombardment of the island of Vieques, is taking on industrialized farming operations these days.

He is representing a family farm association in North Carolina.

"We hope we can put an end to this industry," he said. "It is an outlaw industry. It cannot make money without polluting and breaking the law."

The lawsuits seek to make industrial farms, some of which contain as many as a million animals, adhere to National Pollution Discharge Elimination System laws and require them to build sewage treatment plants.

"A million hogs create more waste than the entire city of New York," Kennedy said.

The seminar also featured presentations on free market approaches to conserving resources by Barrett Walker of the Walker Educational and Charitable Foundation and storm water management by Timothy Lawrence of the Ohio State University Extension.