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SACRAMENTO— RFK's son touts environmental message at Capitol

Kennedy to speak today before joint panel of Legislature

Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
San Francisco Chronicle - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a leading critic of the Bush administration's environmental policies, is expected to tell Sacramento legislators today how federal changes in policies and laws could harm California.

Kennedy is scheduled to speak this morning at a Legislature hearing by joint environmental committees dealing with the threat of pre-emption of state laws as well as with new air-quality and water-supply problems.

Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy and a cousin of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, served as an adviser to the governor during his election campaign. Kennedy continues to pass along environmental advice to the Republican governor, he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The outspoken attorney said that because of backsliding in environmental protection that "favors polluters over the public, the burden has fallen on the state to protect its citizens from pollution and injuries to public health, the land, the air and the water."

He said President Bush's air-quality legislation before Congress would delay reducing mercury and other air pollution from power plants and factories, and he said the administration was lax in bringing imperiled species under the wing of the Endangered Species Act.

Kennedy was picked to testify at a somewhat rare event -- five policy committees from both houses are to join for the hearing -- because he's "a national expert on environmental issues, especially how federal rollbacks and pending actions in Congress adversely affect the ability of states to protect their own environments," said William Craven, chief consultant to the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee.

But William Holbrook, a spokesman for the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, said the president's proposed legislation, called "Clear Skies," would cut power plant pollution nationwide by 70 percent. "There was no regulation or legislation on the books regulating mercury emissions when President Bush first took office," Holbrook said. The measure "specifically allows states to apply further reductions in the event they identify a localized risk of concern," he said.

California is at odds with the Bush administration in regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from vehicles, requiring strict new emission controls on all expanding factories, protecting national forests in the state from vigorous logging and by seeking a federal waiver to stop using such additives as ethanol or MTBE in making clean-burning gasoline.

Schwarzenegger is getting mixed reviews on whether he's pushing a strong environmental agenda. He got high praise for a new plan announced Monday to bring solar energy to millions of buildings, but he has received negative feedback for not involving the public in possible regulatory changes on siting of oil refineries and controlling logging of private forestland.

"Arnold said to me at the beginning of the campaign that he didn't know much about the environment," Kennedy said. "But he understood that it was connected to the long-term good of our community and our children, and that he intended to be the best environmental governor in California history.

"On pollution issues, California is among the best in 50 states. In the natural resources areas, there has been some disappointment."

It was partly through Kennedy that Schwarzenegger knew about the capabilities of Terry Tamminen, first selected in 2003 as head of the state Environmental Protection Agency, then promoted in December to the governor's Cabinet secretary, a top aide position.

A longtime colleague of Kennedy, Tamminen founded watchdog groups similar to the San Francisco Baykeeper in Santa Monica and four other cities. He moved to Environment Now. During the recall campaign, he sent critiques on the environment to the candidates, including Schwarzenegger, whom he had met. Schwarzenegger called him, and they started working together.

Kennedy is president of the umbrella organization the Waterkeeper Alliance and chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper. He is senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and is a professor and supervising attorney at the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law.

On Monday, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York decided on a case brought by the Waterkeeper Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club, which affects the regulation of dairy and other animal operations nationwide. In California, there are about 1,200 big Central Valley operations.

The court ruled that some parts of the 2002 federal livestock regulations violated the law because they allowed the operators to determine whether the operations were in compliance and didn't provide public participation. The court satisfied the operators by saying they didn't need permits unless they discharged off-site.

Kennedy has many critics who won't welcome his testimony. Scott Segal, an attorney with the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a trade group that represents big power plants, said he had debated Kennedy on many of these issues.

"Bobby Kennedy has a unique brand of hyperbole. To Mr. Kennedy, everything is of unmitigated importance," said Segal. "The current administration has proposed historic new reductions in emissions, and every environmental indicator has been positive."

E-mail Jane Kay at jkay@sfchronicle.com.


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