The United States could set a global example by creating a true free-energy marketplace and turning every American into an energy entrepreneur, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said on Feb. 16 at Fordham.
“If we do that, we’re going watch the price of energy in this country plummet,” Kennedy said. “Once we build that grid, companies are going to want to build generation facilities. It will be the biggest permanent tax break ever seen in the country.”
The third of Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s 11 children, RFK Jr. spoke to undergraduates on the Rose Hill campus as part of the American Age Lecture Series. The event was co-sponsored by Fordham’s College Democrats.
Kennedy, who serves as senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, focused his talk on environmental issues. But don’t call him an environmentalist.
“We consider ourselves to be free marketers,” he said. “We need a national marketplace that does what a marketplace is supposed to do—reward good behavior, which is efficiency, and punish bad behavior, which is waste.
“Right now, we have a marketplace that is riddled with rules written by polluters that are designed to reward the use of the dirtiest, filthiest fuels from hell, rather than to achieve clean, green, wholesome, abundant and local fuels from heaven,” he said. “We need to change that dynamic. We need an energy marketplace that turns every home into a power plant.”
Kennedy said the country should be powered by American initiative and resourcefulness rather than Saudi Arabian oil. He underlined the power of the coal and oil lobbies in Washington, D.C., and outlined barriers that prevent the United States from transitioning into a true free-energy marketplace. They include:
• subsidies to coal and oil incumbents;
• an electric grid that can’t carry new types of energy; and
• 50 public utility companies with their own arcane rules that restrict access to the grid.
“Even with the subsidies we give to the incumbents, solar and wind have gotten so cheap that they are essentially at grid parity,” Kennedy said. “But these think tanks in Washington, D.C., they despise the free marketplace.”
The United States is second in the world when it comes to solar energy use. It is number one in wind energy and also leads the way in geothermal power production, he said.
“But we don’t use it because of the illusion that it’s more expensive than coal or oil,” he continued. “That’s because of the huge subsidies we give to oil.”
Kennedy said one need only look at the Internet or telecommunications for examples of how “true free-market capitalism” works.
“In 1979, we built an information grid in this country and the federal government paid for it and linked every American home to the Internet,” he said. “In 1980, the head of IBM said that personal computers were a dead-end technology. A lot of other computer companies at that time made the same bet.
“Now most of us have PCs. And guess what happened because we built the marketplace? And what happened with the cost of information, of bits and bytes? It plummeted to virtually zero,” he said.
Regarding America’s need for liquid fuel, Kennedy said it is inevitable that automobiles are going electric.
“At this year’s Detroit Auto Show, every automaker had an electric car,” Kennedy said.
He pointed to Israel as an example, where the government in 2008 endorsed a private entrepreneur’s ambitious plan to install the world’s first electric car network by later this year.
Kennedy urged students to look to the new-energy economy for careers. “That is where the jobs are,” he said.