Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is many things: professor, attorney, author and political activist. But it was his passion, the environment, that brought him to Pleasanton Thursday.
Kennedy was keynote speaker at a regional meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Water Council, and although his talk touched on water issues, it focused primarily on the need to move away from oil and coal and toward green technologies, including solar, wind and geothermal energy.
The conference was hosted by Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, who is co-chair of the mayors' Water Council.
Kennedy is calling for the building of a national power grid with lines that can carry power over long distances.
"What we need to do is to create in this country the same thing Eisenhower did in the '50s and '60s (building the interstate highway system)," Kennedy said. "We need to build a national supergrid."
Kennedy said that's just one of three keys needed to make sustainable energy a reality in the U.S. He also called for a national marketplace for energy, letting those whose homes generate more electricity than they use sell it to power companies at full market rate.
And, he said, the county needs to end what he called subsidies to incumbents. Kennedy said taxpayers not only subsidize oil and coal companies, they also pay to clean up the wastes they leave behind and increased health care costs due to pollution.
Kennedy said sustainable energy could become a reality sooner, rather than later, if those three keys are put into place. Wind farms in the plains states could produce enough electricity to power the entire country; large-scale solar farms could do the same, and he said the U.S. is sitting on top of the second largest source for geothermal power in the world.
Creating sustainable energy, Kennedy said, would be good for taxpayers, calling it "the single biggest tax break in America."
Business would benefit, too, he said, "because their single biggest expense is energy."
Kennedy can envision a national program similar to Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal," putting Americans to work to make homes more energy efficient.
Ending the country's dependence on coal and oil would pay off for the environment, too, he said, because large mining and oil companies would no longer be dumping toxic chemicals.
Kennedy, the son of slain presidential candidate and former attorney general Bobby Kennedy, is vice chair and chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper, an environmental group dedicated to cleaning the Hudson River, and chairman of Waterkeeper Alliance, a network of people who patrol and protect rivers and streams worldwide. He said a fifth of the water in the Adirondacks is sterilized because of big coal, and because he's a fisherman and he eats what he catches, he has high levels of toxic mercury in his body.
His talk kicked off the two-day meeting of the U.S. Mayors Water Council that wrapped up Friday.. Among the issues discussed at the conference were the water supply and flood management of the Delta, CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and water laws, and how the endangered species act is affecting water supply and management in the state.