Environmental Justice

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says environmental justice must transcend political partisanship.


| October/November 2004



Crimes Against Nature

One of the most prominent environmental lawyers in the United States, Robert F. Kennedy has fought regional pollution battles for decades as a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), as chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper, as president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and as a clinical professor and supervising attorney for the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University Law School.


Photo courtesy Fotolia/czardases

Environmental Justice

At first glance, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s cluttered office at the Pace University Law School in White Plains, N.Y., seems an odd place for a member of one of the world’s most distinguished political families. Only one old photograph, of Kennedy as a boy giving a salamander to his grinning uncle, President John F. Kennedy, gives an outward indication of his family legacy, and it is unceremoniously tacked to a bulletin board next to snapshots of his children and students, and memorabilia from his Indiana Jones-style wilderness adventures.

Nearby, Kennedy’s academic credentials, diplomas with high honors from Harvard and the University of Virginia School of Law, hang crooked on the wall. Festooning other walls are prints of dappled fish, river scenes and sailboats, and portraits of St. Francis of Assisi and Lewis and Clark. Hundreds of reference books on constitutional law, ecology and economics fill floor-to-ceiling shelves. Piles of newspaper clippings, science journals and loose manuscript pages from Kennedy’s new book, Crimes Against Nature, which is his critique of the Bush administration’s environmental policies, are stacked in piles on the floor.

“You can’t talk about the environment today honestly in any context without being critical of this president,” Kennedy says, describing the mission of his book. “More than ever before in American history, the White House is allowing industries to buy clout in Washington and influence federal laws to serve their own interests.”

One of the most prominent environmental lawyers in the United States, Kennedy has fought regional pollution battles for decades as a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), as chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper, as president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and as a clinical professor and supervising attorney for the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University Law School.

Kennedy says we all share a fundamental right to a clean and healthy environment, and he’s as committed to protecting that privilege as his father and uncle were to advancing the civil rights movement. He thinks that just as the letter of the law helped deliver this country from deep racial inequality, the government officials who draft and enforce environmental regulations — and the public-interest lawyers and activists who keep pressure on those officials to do the right thing — are the most powerful agents in the battle for environmental good.

Any concerned citizen who wants to advance this cause, he says, must make politics a priority: “The most important thing you can do is participate in the political process — support the environmental groups that take legal action and lobby, and vote to get rid of the politicians who are whoring for industry,” Kennedy says. “It’s more important than recycling. It’s more important than anything else you can do.”

tom o'brien
7/21/2008 2:33:14 PM

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is as committed to protecting that privilege as his father and uncle were to advancing the civil rights movement? Whoever wrote this statement is evidently weak in the area of early 1960's history. John F. Kennedy was not very interested in getting involved in the civil rights movement at all. Only revisionist history can save him from his lask of enthusiasm for the subject at the time. So thank God for revisionist historians. Bobby was committed to civil right but not his older brother.






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