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Kennedy on Waterkeeper Alliance’s future work and the Greatest Threat to our Nation’s Waters

October 18, 2011

Dean Najuoks, Yadkin Riverkeeper: 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Where do you see Waterkeeper Alliance being most beneficial in the next couple of years and what do you think is the greatest threat to our nation’s waters? 

Kennedy: The biggest threats to water quality come from coal burning power plants, factory farms, sewage treatment plants, storm water and impervious surfaces. There are many specific threats from global warming, acidification of the oceans and mercury contamination of fish.


But, the single greatest threat to the environment around the globe is the decline of our Democracy and the power of the American media, because you can’t have a Democracy without an informed public. Today, American’s are the best entertained and least informed people on the face of the planet.


After the situation with our media, catpure of our political system by corporate power and big polluters threatens our success. The 2010 Supreme Court’s decision, stating that government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections, has unleashed a tsunami of polluter money which has already left an enormous impact on the American political system.


We lost Democracy in the 1880s, when giant corporations, then called trusts, took over our political system. These trusts were able to own the entire U.S. Senate by making relatively small contributions to state legislatures to dominate the state political landscapes. At that time, Federal Senators were not publicly elected, but appointed by the State legislature. So the coal, steel, and sugar trusts, along with a few wealth families, were able to control lawmaking and enforcement and make pollution acceptable – legally and morally.


Democracy was only rescued by the efforts of a few individuals. Journalists, including Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair, exposed corporate corruption and the merger of state and corporate power. A few idealistic politicians, like Teddy Roosevelt, finally put the bit in the mouth of trusts and restored Democracy to the U.S. They did it by passing tough laws like the Sherman Anti Trust Act of 1890 that broke up the power of the trusts and created graduated income tax to get the corporations and wealthy Americans to pay their fair share of the operations of American Democracy. The labor laws allowed unions to organize which enabled the creation of a middle class that gave our Democracy the stability and prosperity that made us the envy of the world.  And the Tillman Act of 1907 restored laws that prohibited corporations from donating money to Federal political officers.


Over the past 20 years, those laws, and the additional reforms of the New Deal, have been gradually dismantled. We are seeing this country turned into a Colonial-style economy – a Banana Republic – with the same kind of medieval feudalism that caused our ancestors to flee Europe. We are seeing huge gaps between the wealthy and the poor. Wealth industries are allowed to dump their waste into the common resources.

In 1980 when Ronald Regan took office, the wealthiest Americans controlled 7 percent of our nation’s enconomy. Today, the top 1 percent control 25 percent of our nation’s wealth. And those gaps are growing dramatically.