By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Like his father before him, Robert Kennedy Jr. can really wow a crowd.
As the eldest son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy spoke about the role renewable energy can play in changing the nation, about 500 people gathered at the downtown Grand Hyatt for the Ninth Annual Fall Luncheon of the Colorado Conservation Voters listened intently, nodded in agreement and focused an almost star-struck level of attention on his words.
Kennedy, an environmental lawyer who lives in New York, said Colorado has a unique role to play in the nation’s environmental and economic transformation.
He denounced coal energy, proclaimed natural gas as the nation’s short-term solution to cheap and clean energy and applauded Gov. Bill Ritter, who, he said, has made many important strides in renewable energy.
“The (idea) of the new energy economy was created here (in Colorado),” Kennedy said moments after being introduced by the governor.
Recognizable faces in the mostly liberal crowd included Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Senate President Brandon Shaffer, Colorado Treasurer Cary Kennedy and Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher.
Kennedy later said he recently met with energy leaders and high-ranking politicians in Washington, D.C., with the intent of implementing “Bill Ritter’s blueprint for renewable energy in this country.”
The nation’s dependence on foreign oil and coal for energy is not only polluting the environment with carbon emissions and acid rain, but is also burdening Americans with a high cost that goes beyond the price of a gallon of gasoline at the pump, Kennedy said.
His list of often-overlooked oil-associated expenses included protecting pipelines in the Middle East, subsidizing oil companies, environmental consequences and the price of wars in oil-rich countries, which, he said, are fought in part for oil.
“We’re spending trillions of dollars a year (subsidizing) the cost of carbon-emitting oil,” Kennedy said.
Although he praised Ritter, Kennedy also acknowledged that he disagrees with the governor on the potential of so-called clean-coal technology. Kennedy said it’s unrealistic to expect to turn coal into a truly clean source of energy and listed a number of hidden expenses associated with coal-fired power plants.
After dissing carbon-based energy for nearly 20 minutes, Kennedy turned his focus to the potential America has to create new, clean energy.
Colorado and the United States have abundant renewable energy resources waiting to be tapped, he continued.
“We are the second largest producer of geothermal (heat). We’re third in solar,” Kennedy said.
“A report just said that if we were able to harness the solar energy in just 19 percent of the most barren desert of the Southwest — an area just 75 miles by 75 miles — we could power every electric grid in the country, even if everyone owned an electric car,” he continued. “We have the best wind in the world. We are the Saudi Arabia of wind. We have this extraordinary cornucopia of renewable resources, and today we have a government that is intent on harnessing them.”
As is always the case with the Kennedy family, politics was part of the discussion.
Kennedy said he has had discussions with senior ranking officials in the White House who have promised him that once health care reform is passed, President Barack Obama will shift his full attention to the passage of sweeping climate change legislation. The first step on that road, a Cap and Trade Bill that passed the House this summer amid much controversy, is stalled in the Senate.
Kennedy said passage of the bill is critical.
“The Cap and Trade Bill … is not a perfect bill by any means. But we all need to support it and get it passed,” he said.
“If we don’t pass it, it will so badly stigmatize environmental legislation in the future that we will not get anything passed for years to come,” he continued. “So we need to pass that bill and all of us need to strongly support it.”
Kennedy said beyond opening the door for future legislation, the Cap and Trade Bill would fundamentally change the way America conducts business.
“After that bill is passed…. every CEO of every business in this country… one of the first questions they are going to ask is, ‘What is the carbon footprint?’” Kennedy said. “And that has never happened in this country before.”
The speech, which lasted just less than an hour, finished with a standing ovation from the gathered crowd.
Apparently not everyone in the crowd was left-leaning. A couple of men overheard in the restroom after the speech were less than supportive of Kennedy’s speech.
“Boy! There was nothing controversial about that speech,” one man said.
“What did you expect?” the other replied. “He’s a Kennedy.”