The Spokane River has been plagued with pollution issues for years, from phosphorus-induced toxic algae blooms to the high levels of PCBs found in rainbow trout and other fish.
But many community members want to change that.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a longtime champion of environmental issues, spoke Thursday night in Spokane on behalf of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an umbrella organization he founded that connects nearly 200 waterkeeper programs worldwide, as well as the Spokane Riverkeepers.
At the event, Mayor Mary Verner said Spokane needs to pursue practical technology that reduces the amount of pollutants entering the Spokane River, to protect the cultural and economic resource for future generations.
“That is the heart of our city, the heart of our community,” she said.
The event also featured a short film, “The Riverkeeper and the Redband Trout,” starring Spokane Riverkeeper Bart Mihailovich, in which Mihailovich explained to the fish what a riverkeeper does: protect waterways from polluters by identifying issues and holding polluters accountable through the federal Clean Water Act.
“You can think of us as the eyes and the ears of the river,” he told the trout puppet. “We’re all trying to do the same thing, which is clean up water bodies.”
After the film, he told the audience: “We can make sure future generations never have to wonder why we didn’t do more.”
Kennedy was introduced by longtime family friend Jim Whittaker, the first American to stand on the summit of Mt. Everest.
“The people of the world deserve to have fresh air and clean water and the things that are basic to human life,” Whittaker said. “We are all connected by this magnificent, beautiful planet.”
Kennedy’s talk centered on the importance of exploring and implementing clean energy and in turn protecting the planet’s waterways, which are damaged by runoff from coal mines.
Clean energy efforts in the United States are hampered by lobbyists, corporate America and government subsidies for “incumbent energies,” he said.
“Propaganda works,” he said.
In order for the U.S. to compete in the global economy, it needs to create a smart grid to transport electrons and focus more on clean energy alternatives that don’t have the fiscal and human costs that incumbent energy such as coal has.
“It’s something we can do,” said Kennedy, who also spoke Wednesday in Sandpoint. “It’s something we should be doing.”
He said we need more incentives for sound environmental behavior, a “marketplace that does what a marketplace is supposed to do, which is to reward good behavior, which is efficiency, and punish bad behavior, which is inefficiency.”
Many say efforts to protect the environment will hinder economic growth by preventing the U.S. from harnessing its natural resources, but Kennedy argued clean energy would reduce our dependence of foreign oil, help farmers make a living by adding wind turbines and generating more profit per acre, add jobs, raise the GDP and allow the U.S. to compete with countries such as China that are investing heavily in clean energy.
“We’ve got to start protecting our environmental infrastructure,” he said. “Good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy.”