"I feel like somebody's stolen my country," Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, told 300 enthusiastic supporters Sunday evening at Westminster College.
Speaking without notes for more than an hour, Kennedy gave an impassioned argument for the importance of environmental stewardship. Along the way, he praised grass-roots activists - such as Great Salt Lakekeeper, the Utah member of Kennedy's alliance that co-sponsored his visit - and excoriated what he said were President Bush's gutting of environmental regulations, corporate cronyism in government, and a compliant media that lets politicians and polluters off the hook.
"This is the worst environmental administration that we have ever had," Kennedy declared, citing 400 rollbacks of environmental rules by the White House in the past six years. He added, reeling off a list of names of former industry executives appointed to government positions, that "they have put polluters in charge of virtually all the [environment-related] agencies . . . not to serve the public interest, but to subvert the very laws they are now charged with enforcing in order to enrich the president's corporate paymasters."
Kennedy faulted "a negligent and indolent press" for not reporting environmental destruction. Tracing the decline of a robust press to Ronald Reagan's 1988 dismantling of the Fairness Doctrine, which mandated public-affairs programming on TV and required balanced opinions on the airwaves, Kennedy said the national news media have been cowed by their advertisers and their sources.
In place of hard news, Kennedy said, we get "sex and celebrity gossip. . . . We know more about Tom Cruise than we do about global warming."
Kennedy rejected the idea that environmentalism and capitalism are incompatible. "In 100 percent of the situations, good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy," he said, adding that environmental protection "is an investment in our infrastructure."
Kennedy evoked both God and country in his defense of the environment.
"Our nation is more rooted in nature and wilderness than any other nation," he said, citing a litany of classic writers and artists whose unifying theme "is that nature is the critical defining element of American culture."
As for God, Kennedy said, "we know our creator best by immersing ourselves in his creation," adding that the leading figure in nearly every major religion - Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Joseph Smith - had a "central epiphany [that] always happens in the wilderness."