Saturday, October 22, 2016

As long as we have Citizens United, the polluters are going to be in charge of our country

It was the supreme court justices who were nominated by Republican presidents who ruled for the Citizens United decision, making corporations people, and their political contributions speech.

Robert F Kennedy Jr
Robert F Kennedy Jr is president of Waterkeeper Alliance, a global movement for swimmable, drinkable and fishable water. He is also a US radio host, environmental activist and attorney specializing in environmental law.


One of the things I’ve recognized in my 30 years of doing this work is that wherever you see large scale environmental injury, you’ll also see the subversion of democracy. You’ll see the corruption of public officials, and the capture of the agencies that are supposed to protect Americans from pollution – they become sock puppets for the industries they’re supposed to regulate.

You’ll see the disappearance of transparency in government, the corruption of the press and the diminishment of local control. I’ll give you an example: in the town where I live, Bedford, New York, somebody tried to build a quarry. We passed a zoning law to say, “Hey, you can’t do that” because it’s going to diminish everyone else’s property values. So yeah, you’re going to make that one guy rich, but all the rest of us are going to pay for it.

That law was upheld by the top appellate court in New York. In Kentucky and West Virginia, where I do a lot of my work, they don’t have those laws. Those laws have been abolished constitutionally so that there is no way for localities to object to mountaintop removal mining, for example. In North Carolina, laws have been abolished that would allow localities to object to factory farms in their backyard. And the agencies in these states are really just mouthpieces for the industries which they’re supposed to regulate.


In North Carolina, Rick Dove, a 27-year veteran of the US marine corps [and one of the founding members of the Waterkeeper Alliance], owned a commercial fishing operation on the Neuse River. It was his dream job after he retired from the marines. Two years after he started that business, a billion fish died in the Neuse River with lesions on their bodies, and no one could explain why. Rick traced the pollution to the hog industry, which had happened below anybody’s radar. Why? Because the hog factories were placed in poor communities that had no voice, and no access to public office.

A [North Carolina] state senator named Wendell Murphy had looked at what happened to the chicken industry in this country. He’d seen how three men – Tyson, Pilgrim and Perdue – had put a million independent chicken farmers out of business and changed the chicken industry from an agricultural one to an industrial one. They would shoehorn up to a million birds into a single facility and keep them in tiny battery cages where they could not turn around, and then dose them with drugs and hormones and manipulate them with light and cause them to literally lay their guts out over a short and miserable life.

They made themselves billionaires. And Wendell Murphy said, “I can do that with hogs”. He passed laws that made it almost impossible for anyone to sue anyone who called themselves a hog farmer, even if it had nothing to do with farming. At that time, there were 28,000 independent hog farmers in the state, raising hogs sustainably, providing jobs. He put every hog farmer in the state out of business, except those who would sign a contract with him. That contract doomed those farmers to involuntary servitude. In 10 years, [the state] went from 28,000 hog farmers to 2,200 factories. And those factories were deliberately put in areas of the state with minority populations – blacks, Hispanics – where people wouldn’t complain.

Polluters always choose the soft targets of poverty. Four out of every five toxic waste dumps in this country are in a black neighborhood. The largest toxic waste dump in America is in Emelle, Alabama, where a third of the population is in poverty. The highest concentration of toxic waste dumps in America is on Chicago’s South Side. The most contaminated zipcode in California is East LA.

Navajo youths have a thousand times the rate of sexual organ cancer as other Americans because the thousands of tons of uranium tailings that have been dumped on their reservation lands. In North Carolina, we now have an air force that flies over the state every day filming these industries because they can’t be photographed from the road.


You’ll hear this a lot from the big polluters, the Koch brothers, from their indentured servants in Washington DC and their toadies on Fox News: “Oh we have to choose between economic prosperity on the one hand and environmental protection on the other.” That is a false choice. In 100% of situations, good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy.

We should be measuring our economy on how it produces jobs and how it preserves the value of the assets of our community. If, on the other hand, we want to do what the Koch brothers and the big polluters want us to do, which is to treat our country as if it were a business in liquidation, convert our natural resources to cash as quickly as possible, have a few years of pollution-based prosperity ... then we can generate an instantaneous cash flow and the illusion of a prosperous economy and make a few people billionaires by impoverishing the rest of us.

But our children are going to pay for our joy ride. And they’re going to pay for it with poor health and huge cleanup costs that are going to amplify and metastasize over time. Environmental injury is deficit spending. It’s a way of loading the costs of our generation’s prosperity onto the backs of our children. One of the things that I’ve done over the past three decades as an environmental advocate is to constantly go around and confront this argument that an investment in our environment is a diminishment of our nation’s wealth. But it’s not – it’s an investment in infrastructure. It’s the same as investing in telecommunications or road construction. It’s an investment we have to make if we’re going to ensure the economic vitality of future generations.


I would get rid of Citizens United. Because for capitalism to work, you need democracy to work. And right now we don’t have democracy. We have what I would call a corporate kleptocracy, an oligarchy by the corporations and the wealthy. You can’t have a clean environment when you have that.


As long as we have Citizens United, the polluters are going to be in charge of our country. And that’s going to happen every time we try and do something good for our children, or something sustainable. Our assets are going to be liquidated and turned into profit by the big shots who own our government.


What polluters do is make themselves rich by making everyone else poor. They raise standards of living for themselves by lowering quality of life for everyone else.


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