(EnviroNews DC News Bureau) — Park City, Utah — Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of Waterkeeper Alliance (the Alliance), sat down with EnviroNews Editor-in-Chief Emerson Urry to discuss the organization’s response to the Trump Administration, which has been active in upending environmental regulations. The interview took place June 8, 2017 in Park City, Utah at the Waterkeeper Alliance International Conference.
Kennedy began by telling EnviroNews, “We’re filing just barrages of suits to stop the dismantling of the Clean Water Act.” Columbia Riverkeeper, part of the Alliance based in Oregon, fired off the first lawsuit in the U.S. against EPA head Scott Pruitt on February 23, 2017, just 13 days after he was confirmed by the Senate. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle and aims to force the EPA to mitigate high water temperatures in the Columbia and Snake Rivers that killed 250,000 adult sockeye salmon in 2015.
The action continued a lengthy record of using the courts to protect the nation’s waterways. Among the highlights cited in the 2016 Waterkeeper Alliance Annual Report are rulings that imposed fines for polluting the Chattahoochee and Potomac Rivers and prevented sand mining in San Francisco Bay. Other actions have resulted in protection for sea otters along the coast of Southern California and defeating the proposed Gateway Pacific coal export terminal in Bellingham, Washington.
Kennedy said the Alliance was also working to prevent the EPA from undoing rules that protect communities and waterways from toxic coal ash waste. The Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, which represents electric generation utilities, has filed a petition that Waterkeeper Alliance says “seeks to do away with most of the EPA’s environmental safeguards for coal ash.” According to Waterkeeper, at least 200 coal ash waste dumps have contaminated local water sources with arsenic, lead, mercury and chromium.
“President Trump and his EPA administrator Pruitt are trying to limit the reach of the Clean Water Act to eliminate rivers in our country and streams and wetlands,” Kennedy said.
The Clean Water Act took effect in 1972, but dates back to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. Prior to enactment of the Clean Water Act, many rivers had become unhealthy, toxic stews of untreated sewage and industrial pollutants. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire and became a symbol for the nascent environmental movement.
Waterkeeper Alliance dates its beginning to 1966. New York’s iconic Hudson River had suffered three decades of having PCBs dumped into it by General Electric (GE) manufacturing plants upriver, contaminating fish and infuriating a community. Local fishermen banded together to launch a full-time patrol of the river, known as the Hudson Riverkeeper. That effort spawned similar citizen watchdog groups along other waterways and eventually led to the founding of the Alliance in 1999.
Today’s threat is the potential unwinding of regulations that have cleaned up the Cuyahoga, Hudson and many other rivers – regulations that put a stop to polluters fouling the nation’s waters. But, as Kennedy points out, “Trump knows better. In  Trump and his children took a full-page ad in the New York Times calling global warming an existential threat.” The ad, which ran on Dec. 6, 2009, as the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen was set to open, urged President Obama “to strengthen and pass United States legislation, and lead the world by example… to ensure meaningful and effective measures to control climate change.” The ad was signed by Donald J. Trump, Donald J. Trump, Jr., Eric F. Trump and Ivanka M. Trump along with a host of other notable business leaders.
WATCH OTHER SEGMENTS FROM THE ENVIRONEWS EXCLUSIVE WITH ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR. BY VISITING THE STORIES BELOW: