Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Weighs In on Controversy over LNG

by Ethan Stewart

RF_Kennedy_Jr.jpgThe fallout from a controversial op-ed
in the Ventura County Star shows little signs of abating,
with its author, environmental champion Robert F. Kennedy Jr.,
drawing heavy criticism last week for his perceived support for a
Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility proposed for the Santa Barbara
Channel. Traditionally lauded for his earth-friendly policies,
Kennedy turned more than a few heads earlier this month when he
wrote an editorial heralding LNG as an “important bridge fuel” on
the road to renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and

Acknowledging that “no energy project is perfect,” Kennedy
argued that LNG burns cleaner than traditional coal and oil sources
and is more cost-effective than nuclear energy. Furthermore, he
wrote, the demand for LNG is “growing,” while current facilities
are “flat.” Kennedy also downplayed the risks associated with
piping the flammable fuel ashore, arguing that when done right, LNG
“impose[s] a relatively tiny ecological footprint and poses far
less public health risks than grave injuries endured by workers and
residents in coal communities or the many public health threats
from burning dirtier fossil fuels.”

Though the editorial never mentioned by name the controversial
BHP Billiton Cabrillo Port facility currently undergoing review for
installation in Ventura waters, several local environmentalists
perceived Kennedy’s comments as a misguided vote of support for the
stalled project and have since flooded the Star and the Internet
with demands that the former Independent cover boy retract his
statement. Pointing to recent data suggesting that the life cycle
carbon dioxide emissions of an LNG plant equal those of a
coal-fired power plant, Community Environmental Council’s energy
programs director Tam Hunt said of the op-ed, “Putting it simply,
it’s just plain uninformed.”

Since the op-ed appeared in print, conspiracy theories have run
rampant as to why Kennedy, a chief counsel for the Natural
Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and onetime savior of New York
City’s water supply, assumed a pro-LNG stance and whether it
indicates that he intends to support BHP Billiton’s project. Adding
a curious twist to the speculation is the role the Manatt, Phelps
& Phillips law firm — which works as a lobbyist on behalf of
BHP — played in the days leading up to the op-ed’s publication. Two
days before Kennedy’s piece ran, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips
attorney David Huard emailed an earlier version of the article to
at least one enviro as proof that Huard’s pro-BHP view was “shared
by recognized environmentalists.” Furthermore, some have found
significance in the fact that this earlier version included an
explicit mention of the BHP project and was dated November 14,
2006, suggesting that the op-ed may have been held for publication
until it was more politically relevant.

However, in an interview with the Malibu Surfside News
just after the controversial piece ran, Kennedy stood by his views,
saying that he supports LNG as a coal or oil alternative, but that
he has “huge concern” about the environmental impacts of the BHP
project specifically. Echoing that, NRDC spokesperson Joel Reynolds
supported Kennedy this week by calling the earlier version of the
op-ed “irrelevant” and pointing out that the printed op-ed “clearly
did not state a position on the BHP project … It didn’t even
mention it.” Then, alluding to the Surfside News interview,
Reynolds said that Kennedy’s views are consistent with the NRDC’s
in that they both pledge cautious support of LNG as a viable
substitute for coal, oil, or nuclear energy, but that both also
view the Cabrillo Port project as “unacceptable” due to the fact
that it would be the number one contributor of smog-forming
pollutants in Ventura County, among other reasons.

Regardless of the intentions behind Kennedy’s editorial, the
Cabrillo Port project remains in limbo, since the U.S. Coast Guard
deferred the project’s application process early last year in order
to gain time to weigh in on the various safety and air quality
concerns associated with the proposed $800 million facility. In the
same vein, the California Coastal Commission is scheduled to tackle
the BHP debate at its April hearing in Santa Barbara, while the
California State Lands Commission is slated to examine the issue at
its April 9 meeting in Oxnard.


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