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May 29, 2009

Daily News

Environmentalists Say: Et Tu, RFK Jr.?

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s friends in the environmental movement felt blindsided by his New York Times OpEd, which was sharply critical of New York's newly expanded bottle-deposit law, Bill Hammond reports.

Kennedy penned the piece - and joined an industry-sponsored lawsuit against bill, which has successfully blocked its planned June 1 implementation - without so much as giving a heads-up to supporters who assumed he was an ally.

"He didn't have the courtesy of communicating with any of the groups that are part of the coalition," said Laura Haight of the New York Public Interest Research Group. Supporters include two groups that Kennedy has been affiliated with, Riverkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Haight also sharply objected to Kennedy's arguments, especially the claim that the law was "cooked up by makers of sugared drinks and their allies in the Legislature" because the expansions extended only to water, and not flavored beverages.

("A Bottle Bill That Will Rot Your Teeth" was the headline of Kennedy's opus).

Haight said the Legislature excluded flavored drinks in deference to grocery stores who complained that sugary residue in returned bottles and cans would attract vermin into their stores.

Environmentalists accepted the compromise because water accounted for 70% of the beverage containers not already covered, she said.

Kennedy, the son of RFK and nephew of JFK, is best known as an environmental attorney. He was mentioned as a potential replacement for Hillary Clinton in the US Senate (for the seat once held by his father), but stepped aside to let his cousin, Caroline Kennedy, take center stage.

And we all know how that turned out.

He also briefly considered an AG run in 2006, creating a brief flurry of excitement among political reporters anxious to cover a race that pitted him against Andrew Cuomo, the ex-husband of his sister, Kerry Kennedy. (Sadly, that was not to be, either).

But, as Kennedy acknowledged toward the end of his OpEd, he's also a water bottler - as chairman of Keeper Springs, a company that donates after-tax profits to environmental causes.

This makes him part of an industry that lobbied hard to block the so-called "Bigger Better Bottle Bill," and he echoed the arguments of industry lobbyists in his article and in an affidavit he filed in support of the lawsuit.

"He's obviously carrying water for the bottled water companies," Haight said.

Haight said Kennedy called her Thursday to apologize for not contacting her sooner. He agreed to meet with her and other supporters of the law and correct any factual mistakes he may have made in his affidavit, she said.


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