December 15, 2003

BuzzFlash.com Talks with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., About His Emile Zola like "J'Accuse" Indictment of the Bush Anti-Environmental Record

Robert Kennedy Jr. in www.buzzflash.com interview: "This, to me, is one of the most alarming things that this Administration is doing -- itís compromised the scientific process and systematically intimidated, blackballed, fired, muzzled and gagged scientists in every department of government. Scientists who produce science that challenges corporate profit taking, or that might be an obstacle to corporate profit taking, are routinely punished or punished by muzzled or gagged." -- Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

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December 15, 2003
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BuzzFlash.com Talks with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., About His Emile Zola like "J'Accuse" Indictment of the Bush Anti-Environmental Record

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

"This, to me, is one of the most alarming things that
this Administration is doing -- itís compromised the
scientific process and systematically intimidated,
blackballed, fired, muzzled and gagged scientists in
every department of government. Scientists who produce
science that challenges corporate profit taking, or
that might be an obstacle to corporate profit taking,
are routinely punished or punished by muzzled or
gagged." -- Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

For his entire adult life, Robert F. Kennedy has
fought to protect our environment. In a recent lengthy
commentary in Rolling Stone Magazine, Kennedy issued a
brilliant, impassioned, well-documented indictment of
the Bush administration for its assault on the air,
water, and land owned by all Americans for our common
good.

Kennedy serves as chief prosecuting attorney for the
Hudson Riverkeeper, senior attorney for the Natural
Resources Defense Council, and serves as the President
of the Waterkeeper Alliance. He is a clinical
professor and supervising attorney at the
Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University
School of Law in New York.

BuzzFlash recently interviewed Kennedy about his case
against the Bush administration's ruinous policies
toward the environment.

* * *

BuzzFlash: Your recent article in Rolling Stone caught
our attention because itís sort of a modern version of
Emile Zolaís JíAccuse -- in this case, an indictment
of the environmental policies of President George W.
Bush. And toward the end of this rather lengthy
indictment, you ask the question: "Does the government
protect the Commonwealth on behalf of all of the
community members or does it allow wealth and
political clout to steal the commons from the people?"
That seems to be the central crux of the question
about how any administration is dealing with issues of
what belongs to "the American people in common." And
certainly thatís something that applies to the
environment. What is your judgment about the Bush
Administration in terms of how it measures up on that
question?

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: One of the central roles of
government from the beginning of the first organized
communities has been protection -- the safeguarding of
the commons on behalf of the public. The commons under
Roman law -- under the Code of Justinian -- were
defined as those things that are not susceptible to
private ownership; in other words, the shared
resources, the air that we breathe, the waterways, the
dune lands, wetlands, wandering animals.

And under Roman law, if you were a citizen of Rome,
the Emperor himself, whether you were humble, noble,
rich or poor, could not stop you from crossing a beach
flowing at an ebb and taking out the fish. Everybody
had a right to use those resources. Nobody had a right
to use them in a way that would diminish or injure
their use and enjoyment by others.

That principle is echoed in the Magna Carta and in the
constitutions of all of our states, through a doctrine
thatís called the Public Trust Doctrine. And itís at
the heart of our environmental laws. And again, from
the beginning of time, the first acts of tyranny were
to privatize the commons. In fact, the Magna Carta was
passed because of the Battle of Runneymede, which was
precipitated by King Johnís efforts to turn the
rivers, the fisheries and the deer over to private
corporations and privileged parties.

Under the Bush Administration, weíre seeing the same
thing that happened in this country during the 1880s
and 1890s, during the Gilded Age, where now -- as then
-- large corporations have an undue influence on
government officials, and where they are literally
stealing things that belong to the public.

One out of every four black children in New York now
has asthma. We donít know whatís causing the pandemic
itself, but we know that asthma attacks are triggered
by ozone in particulates, and that the primary source
-- about 40 percent of those components of air
pollution -- are coming from 1,100 coal-fire power
plants that were supposed to have been cleaned up 10
years ago.

But the energy industry gave $48 million to President
Bush and the Republican Party during the 2000 race,
and the payback is billions of dollars of relief from
regulations that are meant to protect the commons,
including the Clean Air Actsí resource performance
standards, which the Bush Administration abandoned
last month. So itís illegal for those companies to put
those substances into our air, but the Bush
Administration has now said that it is no longer going
to enforce the laws against them.

BuzzFlash: You call this, in your article in Rolling
Stone, "looting the commons."

Kennedy: Let me add one other thing. Yesterday, the
Bush Administration announced that it wasnít going to
enforce mercury standards. And mercury, you know, is a
potent neurotoxin brain poison. Forty percent of the
mercury emissions in our country are coming from those
same 1,100 power plants, and they have poisoned the
fresh water bodies across America. Theyíre now 28
states in which it is unsafe to eat any freshwater
fish in the state.

According to the CDC, there are 325,000 children born
each year who have been subjected to such high levels
of mercury in the womb that they are at risk for
permanent brain damage. The Clinton Administration
classified mercury as a toxic substance under the
Clean Air Act, and required the utilities industry to
remove 90 percent of the mercury within three years.
But the Bush Administration has now abandoned that
requirement and adopted a new proposal that will
effectively allow them to discharge mercury forever.

BuzzFlash: How is this happening? Youíve been involved
with the environment throughout your professional
career. Youíre an attorney who works on cases trying
to protect the environment. How is the Bush
Administration getting away with what you describe --
in essence, an assault on almost every aspect of the
environment?

Kennedy: There are over 200 major environmental
rollbacks that are now being promoted by the Bush
Administration, and theyíre listed on NRDCís website.
Theyíre getting away with this because the media isnít
paying attention. And the reason I say that is that
polling, including the Republican Party polls taken by
Frank Luntz, consistently shows that Americans across
party lines favor strong environmental protection and
strict enforcement of our laws. Republicans and
Democrats favor strengthening our environmental laws
by margins upwards of 75 percent. So the White House
proceeded with an understanding that its
anti-environmental agenda is unpopular with the
American people and has successfully concealed its
agenda through a series of stealth attacks designed to
eviscerate 30 years of environmental law.

NRDC obtained a memo and released it to the press --
from Frank Luntz to the President and to top
Republican leaders -- in which he recommended that
strategy as necessary for preserving the Presidentís
electoral strength. Luntz says in his memo that the
rollbacks are unpopular with the public, including the
Republican Party stalwarts, and that the science was
against the Republicans on these issues. And he
recommended recruiting industry scientists who would
sow confusion about the science. And he recommended
concealing the anti-environmental actions of the
Administration underneath the mantle of environmental
rhetoric.

BuzzFlash: Can you give examples? The cynically named
"Clear Skies," for instance?

Kennedy: Yes, "The Clear Skies" initiative. The Bush
Administration has followed Luntzís advice by cloaking
its anti-environmental agenda with deceptively named
initiatives -- for example, "The Healthy Forests Act,"
which was passed Wednesday, is really a way of
reintroducing 1950s-style industrial logging to public
lands that were thought to be protected forever. "The
Clear Skies" Agenda is a bill that guts the Clean Air
Act. Environmentalists called it the Clear Lies
Initiative. And Luntz recommends that, instead of
weakening, that the Republicans use the word
"streamlining," which they do.

The Administration invariably releases news about
these initiatives on Friday afternoons when the press
is sleeping, or on holidays. Over the next several
weeks during the Christmas holiday, you can expect
that weíre going to see a lot more of these
initiatives.

BuzzFlash: The use of science comes off as somewhat
ironic almost from the first week Bush was sworn in.
One of the first issues that came up was global
warming. He said weíre not going to enact any
regulations unless we can first put them through a
"science-based" series of tests. What youíre
suggesting, Robert, as one of the subtitles in the
Rolling Stones commentary states, is that theyíre
"cooking the books" scientifically.

Kennedy: Yes. This, to me, is one of the most alarming
things that this Administration is doing -- itís
compromised the scientific process and systematically
intimidated, blackballed, fired, muzzled and gagged
scientists in every department of government.
Scientists who produce science that challenges
corporate profit taking, or that might be an obstacle
to corporate profit taking, are routinely punished or
punished by muzzled or gagged.

Iíll give you an example. Last year, a Department of
Agriculture scientist produced a series of reports
that showed that discharges from hog factories
operated by big agri-businesses like Smithfield and
Tysonís Foods, the air emissions from these factories
include, on average, a billion antibiotic-resistant
bacteria every day, which cross property lines and
threaten downwind neighbors and their herds.

I invited this scientist to make a presentation to a
group of farmers and farm activists in Clear Lake,
Iowa last year, to about 1,100 or 1,200 farmers and
farm activists who are fighting agri-business on
factory farms. And the hog industry -- the Pork
Producers Council -- learned a day before he was
supposed to make his presentation to us that he was
going to visit our conference. They contacted the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of
Agriculture ordered him not to appear at the
conference. He later told me that he had been ordered
to not speak at over a dozen events -- mainly
presentations to local county health departments on
his findings. And remember, this is a taxpayer-funded
study. The USDA also ordered him to withdraw the study
and not publish it.

The study is peer-reviewed quality study that was
funded with taxpayer money, but it offended the
industry. And the industry has so much control over
our government officials that the USDA, which is
supposed to be protecting small farmers and rural
communities, has instead become an advocate for big
agri-business and is muzzling its own scientists when
the science shows that agri-business practices are
posing a public health threat. The same Administration
ordered government scientists not to study methal
bromide, another pesticide. Theyíve ordered government
scientists not to study mercury. And theyíve muzzled
two scientists within the EPA who were studying
mercury poisoning.

The U.S. Department of Interior has altered a series
of reports on polar bears, trumpeter swans, and
caribou in the Arctic that show that industry
practices are damaging these animals. Theyíve done the
same on desert fishes in Arizona, on timber wolves, on
grizzly bears. All of these reports indicated that
corporate activity was threatening the continued
existence of these species. And so the Administration
ordered the science halted.

BuzzFlash: On this specific topic of manipulation of
science, you have a paragraph, about midway through
the article, about global warming, in which you
mention that a report, which had been suppressed by
the Bush Administration, was leaked by dissident EPA
scientists. It showed that a Senate plan co-sponsored
by John McCain could reduce pollution that causes
global warming at a very small cost, and the
Administration basically squashed that. To knock the
leaked study off the radar screen, the Bush
Administration announced it was launching a $100
million, 10-year effort to prove that global
temperature changes have, in fact, occurred naturally.

Kennedy: Ha.

BuzzFlash: And you say now the delay tactic was done
to benefit the fossil fuel barons. So we had a study
ostensibly that showed really we could reduce the
pollution that causes global warming for very little
cost. The Bush Administration suppresses that. When it
finally is leaked, then they come up with a study
thatís going to waste one-tenth of a billion dollars
to try to prove, over a 10-year period, that itís all
really due to natural causes.

Kennedy: Thatís right. My Rolling Stone piece mentions
12 different major studies on global warming that have
been suppressed or altered by the Bush Administration.
And the Presidentís father did this same tactic. One
of the studies that this Bush Administration has
suppressed was a 10-year intensive study that was
inaugurated by President Bushís father when he was
President for the same reason -- to delay action on
what was already a consensus among the worldís
scientists: that global warming exists, and that itís
caused by the byproducts of our population growth
aided by industrial discharges into our atmosphere.

That report, inaugurated by the original President
Bush, also concluded that this is a crisis that has to
be addressed immediately. That was suppressed, and
then the son has launched another 10-year study. His
intention is transparent -- a continued delay on any
action on global warming gasses.

BuzzFlash: Near the end of the indictment of the Bush
Administration, you make the statement that corporate
capitalists do not want free markets. They want
dependable profits, and their surest route to crush
competition is by controlling the government. You go
on to suggest that what weíve seen happen in the Bush
Administration is that the industries that are
governed are now basically governing themselves
because Bush has appointed so many industry people to
regulatory jobs. Theyíve gone through the revolving
door and end up policing the very industries theyíre
coming from.

Kennedy: All of our federal agencies have now been
captured by the industries that theyíre intended to
regulate. The head of the Forest Service is a timber
industry lobbyist. The head of our public lands is a
mining industry lobbyist. The chief of staff in the
White House, Andrew Card, was chief counsel to General
Motors and its top lobbyists. And 22 of the top 38
White House officials all have energy industry
pedigrees. We have a president that says that he
doesnít listen to TV, and he doesnít get his news from
the newspapers, but gets it from his staff.
Unfortunately, all of his staff are from the energy
industries, and the rest of them have corporate
pedigrees. So they, of course, have a rosy view of
whatís going on in our country, and their opinions
about how our nation ought to work may not always
reflect the best interests of the American public.

I think my concern regarding the increasing control of
government by large corporations should be a central
issue to all Americans. I was raised in a milieu where
I was taught that communism leads to dictatorship and
capitalism leads to democracy. But itís not that
simple. Free-market capitalism definitely democratizes
a country. But corporate crony capitalism is as
antithetical to democracy in America as it is in
Nigeria. And corporate control of government is
fascism. The definition of communism is the control of
business by government. The definition of fascism is
the control of government by business.

A farmer sent me a copy of the American Heritage
Dictionaryís definition of fascism the other day, and
the definition is roughly that the control of
government by large corporations with right-wing
ideologies, driven by bellicose nationalism. That has
a familiar ring these days.

Democracy is fragile. It needs to be nurtured. It
needs to be stewarded. And the free market has to be
protected through government regulation. As I say,
capitalists do not want free markets. They want
profits. And the best way to capture profits -- to
capture a reliable profit stream -- is to get control
of government and use government to crush your
competition.

And thatís whatís happening in this country -- the
free market is being eliminated. And in many of the
major sectors, the free market has already
disappeared. There is no free market left in
agriculture. A farmer canít raise a pig and get it
slaughtered, and bring it to a stockyard and sell it.
The stockyards are gone. The farmers are out of
business, and hog production and meat production and
chicken production in this country is now controlled
by giant agri-businesses, as is grain production. The
same is true in the energy sector, and in the media --
youíve got 17,000 news outlets in this country that
are now controlled by 11 corporations. And itís even
happening on Main Street, where Wal-Mart is coming and
knocking out the Main Street merchants, the small
entrepreneurs. Theyíre really making American
democracy viable. And itís a frightening thing for our
country. But we need a free market.

I heard him Jim Hightower the free market is a great
thing. We should try it sometime. Weíre losing it in
America. And when we lose the free market -- the free
market democracy, the democracy of the marketplace --
political democracy will fall soon after. And thatís
something all of us should be afraid of.

BuzzFlash: Again, youíve devoted your life to trying
to keep the environment as pristine and as useable as
possible for the public good. Thereís been talk by
some large corporations -- Enron was dabbling in it --
of actually privatizing water rights. Is the public
not seeing whatís happening in terms of the
privatization of the environment?

Kennedy: The privatization is occurring when a coal
company and a utility poison the air that your
children are supposed to be breathing. Thatís the
privatization of a public resource. Itís a
privatization of a public resource when General
Electric dumps PCBs into the Hudson River so that
nobody can eat the fish, so itís illegal to sell the
fish in the marketplace, because those fish were owned
by the public. And they were owned by the commercial
fishermen who utilized that resource for generations
-- for 350 years. But all of a sudden, those fishermen
were put out of business -- the small business
enterprises were put out of business because General
Electric had better lobbyists up in Albany. And they
were able to dump grease the political skids and dump
their PCBs into the Hudson. They made a big profit by
privatizing the commons -- by liquidating a public
asset for cash, which were the fish of the Hudson
River.

And the coal companies and the utilities are
liquidating a public asset for cash, which is the air
that we breathe. And itís not just that our public
lands are being opened, or that our water systems are
being sold to private companies, but you can privatize
the commons through pollution, because thatís a public
asset that is being essentially reduced to private
control. Itís being stolen from the public through
your actions.

And thatís whatís going on on Capitol Hill. Itís much
more subtle, in most cases, than somebody kind of
outright buying a public water supply. But itís much
more ubiquitous too. Itís happening everywhere, all
around us, with the things that we always took for
granted -- the air, the water, the fisheries, the
wetlands. All the things that are owned by the public,
such as the aquifers that are the infrastructure to
our quality of life. Those things are being stolen
from us by private corporate entities with political
clout.

BuzzFlash: Robert F. Kennedy Jr., thank you very much
for your time.

Kennedy: Thanks for having me.

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

Posted by richard at December 15, 2003 09:52 AM