Kennedy on Our Energy Future

21 12 2008
Kennedy with musician James Blunt, who performed at the EcoSalon Event

Kennedy with musician James Blunt, who performed at the EcoSalon Event

Earlier this month, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. joined Lexus Hybrid Living to host Waterkeeper Alliance Eco-Salon, one in a series of social events to raise awareness about sustainability. (Put simply, it’s kind of like Green Drinks for rich people.) At $500 per ticket, entry wasn’t cheap, but funds raised will support Waterkeeper Alliance, the non-profit founded by Kennedy in 1999 to to restore water quality and ecosystems across the world. Luckily, I was treated to a press pass, which included an escort to the party via OZOcar, a luxury car service that uses hybrids.

Dropped off at the private home of William Wachtel and Annie Zabar in Chappaqua, NY, I enjoyed a few eco-friendly cocktails, some gorgeous green furniture, and–oh yeah–had the chance to sit down with RFK Jr. himself and pick his brain about the Big Three fiasco, the electric revolution, and why the very hybrid cars that had whisked us all to the party just aren’t going to get the job done. Read on to hear what he had to say, and find out which other celebs showed up and view our Photo Gallery!

Green furnishings, green drinks, and celebrities, oh my!
Guests mingled amongst Uhuro’s whiskey-barrel chairs and Peter Danko’s sophisticated Kumo chairs, made from recycled seat belts, while noshing on hors d’oeurvres green caterer The Cleaver Co. and sipping cocktails mixed with the acai spirit Veev. Meanwhile, pop-sensation James Blunt performed hits like “You’re Beautiful” before the crowd, which included actress Gloria Reuben of ER and actor Joe Pantoliano of The Matrix and The Sopranos. Lexus Hybrid Living partner and co-founder and CEO of Q Collection Jesse Johnson was also on hand, along with ubercool fashion designer Lara Miller. Despite the fact that I felt like I was stuck in a Stuff White People Like blog post, I was having a pretty good time.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr(Chairman, Waterkeeper Alliance)

Kennedy on Obama: Change we can believe in?
Following the main event TreeHugger founder Graham Hill and I joined Mark Spellun of Plenty Magazine to chat with Kennedy. He discussed the importance of connecting the environment to all aspects of our lives, free-market capitalism, creating machine- and building- efficiency standards, and how the new federal administration can create the change we need.

With Obama taking office in January and the economy in shambles, we were all eager to hear what Kennedy had to spout. Topping his list for change he could believe in were efficiency standards for appliances, automobiles, buildings, and new construction, which he called the fastest way to break our current demand for fossil fuels. He noted that the second most important long-term investment as he saw it was to build a national smart-power grid. Why? Efficiency saves money, and in these penny-pinching times, we can’t afford to be inefficient.

Hybrid cars be damned!
This is especially true, says Kennedy, when it comes to bailing out the Big Three automakers. “They have been warned for 20 years that they were digging their own graves,” said the eco-lawyer, however, there is “no industry that’s more important to save than Detroit [because] it’s one out of every ten American jobs, and you can’t let those jobs go under.” But here’s where the green opportunity comes in to play: If we bail them out, says Kennedy, there must be regulations outlined by Congress to ensure that the billions in loans are used to support electric car technology “and not hybrid…forget about hybrids, hybrids are a dead end; Detroit would be chasing the Japanese.”

Instead, said RFK, the U.S. must stop importing foreign oil. “We’re just hemorrhaging wealth,” he spouted, adding that what the U.S. really needs to do is keep our money in our money on American soil, and help to create jobs. Electricity, he believes, could be just the secret weapon we need to combat our current dependence on oil. With electric cars, he noted, “you don’t have to push around a 500-pound engine, and it costs six cents a mile to drive electric [whereas] it costs 45 cents a mile to drive an internal combustion engine. So even if you’re getting the electricity from a filthy, dirty, anthracite, sulfur-laden, coal-burning power plant, you’re still producing less carbon than if you drive an internal combustion engine.” Sounds great! Just tell us where to get one.

We have the technology
Kennedy emphasized that we already have the current technologies and business models to make the shift to electric. Israel’s electric car darling Better Place, for example, which Kennedy referred to as “the smartest guys on the block,” have the perfect business model for going electric, he believes. And finally, he added, the power of an efficient smart grid would help reduce emissions and conserve energy, by using peaker plants, for example, which kick into gear only when energy use is in high demand. Smart grid technology could also shut off unused utilities in a million homes for fifteen minutes at peak times and not effect the function of the utility.

While the U.S.’s economic outlook is still pretty grim, I must admit that Kennedy’s Pollyanna attitude had me believing it could indeed be an opportunity rather than a hindrance for the green movement. Could our failing economy be exactly what we need in order for people to make a significant change in their lifestyles? The jury’s still out on that one. But as RFK Jr. said, “You can’t change the world by persuading people to do good things for the sake of humanity…You have to connect the environment to all the other issues in their lives.” With so many Americans concerned about the poor job market and their bank accounts, maybe this fiasco will act as catalyst between the environment, the individual, and true green opportunity. Kennedy sure hopes so, and so do I.

Story credit:

RFK Jr Attends Hybrid Car-Sponsored Event, Declares Electric Vehicles Superior

by Emma Grady, New York, NY on 12.11.08, from Treehugger 




2 responses

23 12 2008

HEY BOBBY, Here’s a class action lawsuit dream…

GOT OUTRAGE!… MORE EPA B.S. FLOATING TO THE SURFACE. How much longer can we take this crap from corrupt criminals poisoning us with their snake oil and the non-stop corporate welfare to keep the elite entitlement going and going… If the TARP Bailouts, Enron Loophole, Maddoff ponzi creeps, no account real fascist politician sleaze balls, bought and paid for scum…. ain’t enough for you, what will it take to lock down our government and demand culpability and accountability… Since when was my country for sale dammit! DECIDER MY ASS!



Taken from–.html on 12/22/08

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency routinely allows companies to keep new information about their chemicals secret, including compounds that have been shown to cause cancer and respiratory problems, the Journal Sentinel has found.

The newspaper examined more than 2,000 filings in the EPA’s registry of dangerous chemicals for the past three years. In more than half the cases, the EPA agreed to keep the chemical name a secret. In hundreds of other cases, it allowed the company filing the report to keep its name and address confidential.

This is despite a federal law calling for public notice of any new information through the EPA’s program monitoring chemicals that pose substantial risk. The whole idea of the program is to warn the public of newfound dangers.

The EPA’s rules are supposed to allow confidentiality only “under very limited circumstances.”

Legal experts and environmental advocates say the practice of “sanitizing,” or blacking out, this information not only strips vital information from the public, it violates the agency’s own law.

Section 14 of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the foundation for all the EPA’s toxic and chemical regulations, stipulates that chemical producers may not be granted confidentiality when it comes to health and safety data.

“The EPA has chosen to ignore that,” said Wendy Wagner, a law professor at the University of Texas-Austin.

The newspaper’s findings are just the latest example of how EPA administrators more often than not put company interests above the needs of consumers. Over the past 18 months, the Journal Sentinel has reported on numerous EPA programs that bow to corporate pressure, frustrating health and environmental advocates and disregarding the agency’s own mission to inform the public of potentially dangerous chemicals.

The EPA has the authority to fine companies that fail to fully disclose information about dangerous chemicals. And, in at least one instance, it has done so. But critics say the program has been allowed to flounder, and the agency rarely challenges a company’s request for confidentiality.

It’s been frustrating to see the program “starved of resources and generally abandoned,” said Myra Karstadt, a toxicologist who worked on the EPA’s program from 1998 to 2005. “It’s a very worthwhile program but only if it’s given a chance to work.”

Intent was to inform:

The program began 30 years ago as a way to help the public avoid contact with dangerous chemicals. The law requires companies that make chemicals to submit any information of potential hazards about their products to the EPA. The EPA, in turn, is supposed to make that information available to communities and consumers.

Companies can claim confidentiality if they are worried that their disclosures will reveal trade secrets. They have to answer 14 questions, including specifics on why disclosing the information would harm the company.

EPA administrators then decide which ones are granted confidentiality.

EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said the agency realizes the claims of confidentiality “do in some instances limit the public’s ability to understand the specifics of a particular filing.” In those cases, the agency works with the companies to get them to provide more information, which many do, he said.

But the Journal Sentinel examination of the agency’s substantial risk program found that large information gaps remain. More than half of the 32 submissions for March 2004, for example, are still missing information necessary for the public to connect the name of the chemical with the information submitted.

Some have no information at all:

Consider File No. 8EHQ-0308-17103A.

The EPA document, filed in March, marks as confidential the names of the chemical and the company that makes it. Even the generic class of chemical has been removed.

What is the information that this unnamed company is submitting about this unnamed chemical so the public can see if it poses a substantial risk? Anxious consumers have no way of knowing.

“No information is provided in the sanitized copy of the submission,” the EPA Web site entry reads.

Hazardous if inhaled:

One report, posted by an unnamed company about an unnamed chemical, shows that if the substance is inhaled, it produces “foamy macrophages” or diseased cells, in the lungs of rats. The report also indicates the chemical may cause pulmonary fibrosis – a deadly and irreversible disease in people.

There is no way to know if this is a chemical coming out of a smokestack in some town or a concern for workers at a factory. The write-up does not say where the chemical is produced or used.

Nor is there any indication in the description of what this chemical is or how it works.

Another filing in May refers to a study that shows a chemical had caused liver abnormalities consistent with cancer. Again, the chemical name and any identifying information are blacked out.

“The public is being denied useful and sometimes critical information on chemical-related health and environmental hazards,” said Karstadt, the former EPA toxicologist.

Karstadt said the whole point of the program was to provide the public with information about dangerous chemicals.

“By law, health and safety data is supposed to be kept open,” she said.

The EPA’s own Web site indicates that studies, letters and accident reports are intended to be viewed by the public so citizens can “understand potential human health and environmental risks associated with exposure to chemical substances.”

The EPA posts all reports, redacted or not, on its Web site.

Oversees 28 programs:

The law that requires companies to report data on dangerous chemicals is just one of 10 laws that the EPA is supposed to enforce. The office oversees 28 programs that address air pollution, water pollution, hazardous waste, toxic substances and pesticides, among other things.

The EPA is an enormous agency with three headquarters in the Washington, D.C., area and 10 regional offices all over the country. The office that administers the dangerous chemicals program has eight divisions. The overview describing their responsibilities fills 41 pages.

Even Kemery, the spokesman, could not say exactly who or how many people decide what information is allowed to be kept confidential. Nor did he know how many claims of confidentiality have been submitted and how many were granted.

The Environmental Working Group, a watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., reports that less than 1% of the EPA’s enforcement and compliance budget is spent on the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Renee Sharpe, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, spent more than a year trying to get information from the EPA about some of the chemicals under the program, only to be denied at every turn.

“It’s pretty outrageous, isn’t it,” she said.

The EPA advises companies on how to keep information confidential. It is less helpful to consumers.

The information on its Web site is difficult to access. You can’t look up the chemical by name or by the name of the company that makes it. So, you have to go through the filings month by month to see if there is any information listed on that particular chemical.

There are huge gaps in reporting. The Web site does not have any information on chemicals before 2004. For reasons the EPA does not explain, the Web site does not include the second half of 2004.

That means there is no information at all about more than 16,000 entries

Enforcement at work:

Sometimes, the program works.

In 2004, the EPA fined DuPont de Nemours and Co. $10.25  million for not reporting data on Teflon. The chemical, used as nonstick coating in cookware, was found to be toxic and had been linked to birth defects. The EPA alleged that DuPont had information for more than 20 years that the chemical was harmful but did not disclose the risks.

The company agreed to settle and pay the penalty. It was the largest civil administrative penalty the EPA had ever obtained under any federal environmental statute.

Other times the EPA has encouraged companies to withdraw chemicals found to be dangerous. In 1999, 3M agreed to phase out its use of perfluorinated chemicals after discussions with the EPA. The chemicals, used in furniture coatings and to waterproof clothing, were found to cause reproductive and developmental toxicity in rats.

Still, critics including Karstadt and Wagner say the agency’s policies have grown too lax.

The real problem with the program “is a complete lack of commitment,” Karstadt said.

Even when companies say they understand the need for transparency, they aren’t always willing to provide it, the Journal Sentinel found.

Adam Bickel, manager of the Product Regulatory Center of Expertise at BASF, a major German-based chemical producer, said his company recognizes that toxic law is a “key chemical control and chemical management statute to protect human health and the environment.”

BASF is one of the companies that files the most reports to the EPA under the program. Bickel said his company takes its obligations “seriously and complies with the reporting.”

BASF submitted 101 reports to the EPA in 2008. It blacked out the chemical name in 85 of those entries.

29 12 2008
electric cars will not reduce dependence on foreign oil | Digg hot tags

[…] Vote Kennedy on Our Energy Future […]

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