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Robert F. Kennedy Eyed to Head EPA

By Juliet Eilperin
President-elect Barack Obama is looking at possibly appointing Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head the Environmental Protection Agency, according to sources familiar with the process, though he is eying several other prominent environmentalists as well.

Kennedy founded and now chairs the Waterkeeper Alliance, which promotes water quality in the U.S. and abroad, while simultaneously serving as an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a professor at Pace University School of Law. He backed New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in this year's Democratic presidential primary, but his cousin Caroline co-chaired Obama's vice presidential search committee.

Several sources familiar with the transition process, however, noted the new administration will be looking to appoint several women and people of color to high-profile positions and EPA would be a natural slot for such an appointment.

Other names under consideration for the administrator slot include: former Sierra Club president and environmental activist Lisa Renstrom; California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols; Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty; and Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles.

Nichols served as EPA's assistant administrator for the office of air and radiation under the Clinton administration, and McGinty chaired the Council on Environmental Quality under Clinton.

By Web Politics Editor  |  November 6, 2008; 12:09 PM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , The Agencies , Transition  
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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is our new administration’s best choice to head the EPA:

"Mr. Kennedy serves as Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and President of Waterkeeper Alliance. He is also a Clinical Professor and Supervising Attorney at Pace University School of Law’s Environmental Litigation Clinic and is co-host of Ring of Fire on Air America Radio. Earlier in his career he served as Assistant District Attorney in New York City."

"He has worked on environmental issues across the Americas and has assisted several indigenous tribes in Latin America and Canada in successfully negotiating treaties protecting traditional homelands. He is credited with leading the fight to protect New York City's water supply. The New York City watershed agreement, which he negotiated on behalf of environmentalists and New York City watershed consumers, is regarded as an international model in stakeholder consensus negotiations and sustainable development. He helped lead the fight to turn back the anti-environmental legislation during the 104th Congress."

Posted by: BarbaraDurkin | November 10, 2008 10:45 AM | Report abuse

After so many years of EPA being controlled by the oil and chemical industry lobbiests Robert Kennedy Jr. would be the best choice Obama could make for setting the agency on a new course. He's passionate, effective and a proven environmental leader who people trust. We don't need one of the other half-baked administrative types being talked as alternatives to Kennedy for EPA head any more than we needed one as president. If Obama is really about change I agree with the earlier post that this is a good way to show it.

Posted by: wycam | November 8, 2008 11:55 PM | Report abuse

As one of Lisa Renstrom's colleagues at the Sierra Club, I'm surprised by doctor-al's post. Lisa has great people skills, can communicate effectively with the public, and is a good listener. She obviously is passionate about environmental protection. I am neither laughing nor gagging at the the thought of her being considered for the EPA Administrator position in the Obama Administration. She'll work hard in whatever role she is chosen to fill.

I also know Katie McGinty and RFK,Jr. McGinty has a good resume for an EPA Administrator. My concern regarding RFK, Jr. would be that, while he has a lot of passion about environmental protection, he is more of a "show horse" than a "work horse."

I agree with those, however, who say the EPA Administrator does not need to be scientist. There are plenty of scientists at EPA. The EPA Administrator needs to be able to manage the agency, understand the science, and communicate with the public.

Posted by: stagolee | November 8, 2008 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Interesting choices, interesting comments...
We need an EPA head that will inform, translate and implement Obama's policies. The agency itself has been devastated over the past 8 years. The prior piece dissing Renstrom shows a lack of familiarity with both her and the Club. She led the club through a period of change during which it adopted Climate Change as a priority, professionalized the board, initiated online organizing, and engaged Harvard to study and optimize the Sierra Club's grassroots network - a model that was adopted by the Obama campaign ( . Most would consider it outstanding and effective leadership through a period of difficult but necessary change.

Posted by: ontheedgenow | November 8, 2008 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Of all of the highly qualified people associated with the Sierra Club it's hard to believe someone as vacant and ineffective as Lisa Renstrom would be under consderation. She represented an ablsolute low point, intellectually, in leadership of the Sierra Club. I'm sure her fellow board members and Sierra Club members who know her are alternating between laughing and gagging about this propsect

Posted by: doctor-al | November 7, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

The head of the EPA need not be a scientist, but they should at least be scientifically literate. RFK Jr. has gone out of his way to demonize science and scientist opposed to his personal belief in a link between vaccines and autism, a connection for which this is not one shred of empirical evidence. Environmental protection IS science, and after eight years of anti-science, anti-intellectual leaders making decisions based upon their "gut instinct" the last thing we need at the head of EPA (or any cabinet position) is just another ideologue. The uniformed left is just as dangerous as the uninformed right.

Posted by: fontinalis | November 7, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I totally agree - Kennedy would be a HORRIBLE choice and so would an extreme environmental activist such as Lisa Renstrom. I also agree that choosing someone from a state like VA or PA is a smart thing to do not only politically but because they have faced many similar challenges that the EPA faces including budget constraints. Besides most of the environmental laws are actually carried out at the state level.

Posted by: billpj23 | November 7, 2008 8:16 AM | Report abuse

No chance. No Sierra Club dude, and not Kennedy. If Obama does it, we can write-off another term. A few comments are spot on. You need an advocate, but not an extremist, and someone who can do the job of adminstrating and being honest with congress and not prophesizing or being a 'yes' man (woman). The problem is that the EPA is a scapegoat. If you really want environmental protection the government needs to help the EPA with labor and environmental laws that are strongly enforced that hold imported goods to similar standards that we have for goods produced in America. Everyone is yada yada 'fair trade' to help the developing countries, maybe it's time we should adopt it for our own good. Not just token laws and token enforcement. Once the playing field is level, the EPA can work and be effective because they won't be seen as satan coming to town to kill jobs and crush small businesses.

Posted by: NovaMike | November 7, 2008 7:38 AM | Report abuse

another enviro who thinks there are better qualified folks for this...

1, look up what he said about mercury, vacine and autism. it was loony, and not supported by science.

2, he took the wrong stance on Cape Wind, and won't ever admit he was wrong... because of a gin & tonic view to be impacted not one bit.

3, there are alot of better qualified candidates, with clean noses and records to boot. McGinty comes to mind as one of many examples.

Posted by: goaway41 | November 7, 2008 4:32 AM | Report abuse

The WP should have done their homework before throwing his name out there. Kennedy has never been able to actually get hired by anyone since his heroin conviction, even Schwarzenegger was unable to get him a job in his administration. And people are also forgetting the fact that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. created a huge controversy when he supported Hillary while the rest of the family supported Obama. If any Kennedy is considered it should be Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg who was a huge Obama supporter.

Posted by: graciejane4 | November 6, 2008 11:03 PM | Report abuse

I don't think he would be confirmed for any cabinet position with a heroin conviction, someone should tell him that heroin is more dangerous to the brain than any childhood vaccine. The post just put his name out there to get everyone's attention he will never be nominated for any post in the Obama administration.

Posted by: graciejane4 | November 6, 2008 10:35 PM | Report abuse

This is what Slate has to say about Kennedy, I think being busted for heroin pretty much takes him out of the running.
"Do not hire Robert Kennedy Jr. He's too partisan and kind of a nut when it comes to policy. Check out this dangerously alarmist 2005 Rolling Stone piece about the purported link between autism and childhood vaccines. (To learn why Kennedy's piece was alarmist, see "Sticking Up for Thimerosal" by Arthur Allen in Slate, August 2005.) Throw in Kennedy's 1983 heroin bust, and you've got yourself an unconfirmable nominee."

Posted by: tcochin | November 6, 2008 10:26 PM | Report abuse

Yes to RFK, Jr. The EPA head needs to know environmental law, not the science. He will have an army of great scientists. The work they do will mean nothing without someone who can take science from the EPA and use it to enforce the laws on the books-- CERCLA, RICRA, FIFRA, TSCA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and especially the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) which we are finding needs much more research, funding and enforcement.

Absolutely no to Al Gore. He is a fraud and a poser. He took all the credit for the hard work that climate scientists did and made the whole country think he was a the one who did it (like he invented the internet).

Posted by: thuff7 | November 6, 2008 10:23 PM | Report abuse

EPA is a serious technical agency that has long been crippled by ideologies of extremists both right and left. RFK Jr. is just such an extremist who would not be able to manage the real business of government. America needs EPA to be credible, fact finding, and present recommendations based on best technical information available. Does anyone really think that as EPA Administrator, RFK Jr. would allow his agency to publish data that contradicts his view of the world? And you thought the Bush administration tried to manipulate data, just wait until you see what a bunch of extremists like RFK would do.

Posted by: deepnuke | November 6, 2008 10:21 PM | Report abuse

Robert Kennedy Jr. is not a bad pick. I disagree with those that assert that the head of EPA should be a scientist. There are plenty of good scientists at EPA. Much of the work that needs to happen at EPA is rebuilding a vigorous enforcement program. It seems to me that an environmental attorney might be preferable to a policy wonk like McGinty or a bureaucrat like Nichols.

Posted by: cbdarnell | November 6, 2008 10:04 PM | Report abuse

RFK Jr. may be the right fight ideologically and obviously comes from a great family but he has frequently acted like an idiot in his public pronouncements. His claim that he "proved" the 2004 election in Ohio was stolen rested on evidence that was, frankly, laughable. The fact he put his reputation on the line for this claim doesn't say much for him. Obama should pick someone a bit more levelheaded.

Posted by: RealChoices | November 6, 2008 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. should be kept as far away from a position of responsibility as possible. He is the Sarah Palin of science.

This man, who should know first hand about dilution of gene pools, actually believes there is a government conspiracy to create autistic children.

He is of a piece with his idiot brother who makes commercials for Hugo Chavez.

Please, please! JFK and RFK are genuine American heroes. Most of their children, however, should be seen and not heard, especially Bobby and Joe, the intellectual runts of the litter.

Posted by: IraRAllen | November 6, 2008 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. should be kept as far away from a position of responsibility as possible. He is the Sarah Palin of science.

This man, who should know first hand about dilution of gene pools, actually believes there is a government conspiracy to create autistic children.

He is of a piece with his idiot brother who makes commercials for Hugo Chavez.

Please, please! JFK and RFK are genuine American heroes. Most of their children, however, should be seen and not heard, especially Bobby and Joe, the intellectual runts of the litter.

Posted by: IraRAllen | November 6, 2008 9:44 PM | Report abuse

The person to head the EPA should be a scientist with credible, viable and hands on working knowledge of the world environment and not some political hack paper pusher. The same thing should apply to the Secretary of the Treasury, in that a person who is ready to admit and consider that the ECONOMIC SYSTEM is flawed and these flawed scheme to plug up the holes will not work. The change needed is to look at the whole system from a realistic and objective point of view. To keep pushing the consumers to buy things that they do not need and cannot afford has to change. The bottom line is to balance the credit Vs debt equation and it should start at the top and not the bottom. The question now should be let us ask what the government that collect taxes from individual citizens can run around and do for the WE THE PEOPLE and the country and not for the SOB politicians and the top 5% of the rich SOBs that run the system.

Posted by: winemaster2 | November 6, 2008 9:31 PM | Report abuse

to the poster who wrote Yeah, Gore for EPA sounds like a much better choice all the way.

If Gore wants a position, I think other ones would be more suitable for him -- ones more directly tied to climate change.

Posted by: davidscott1 | November 6, 2008 9:20 PM | Report abuse

I hope so. RFK Jr. is a true environmentalist. If you don't listen to him on "Ring of Fire" you should.
NOTE TO GOP: Environmentalism is good. So is liberalism.

Posted by: bdunn1 | November 6, 2008 9:11 PM | Report abuse

Kathleen McGinty seems like the best choice by far, I'm not sure she's want the job. She's done a great job as the Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in a politically important state with very complex environmental issues related to mining and sources of water pollution. She was also very effective in the Clinton administration as the head of the Council on Environmental Quality. She is also the only WOMAN that I've heard mentioned for any post so far.

Posted by: tcochin | November 6, 2008 9:04 PM | Report abuse

I voted for Obama but loathe RFK Jr. for his totally irresponsible ambulance chasing support of the "mercury in vaccines causes autism" movement, which threatens the return of diseases like measles and polio in the name of a totally discredited theory. I would prefer someone with a more scientific bias.

Posted by: irishjazz | November 6, 2008 8:55 PM | Report abuse

RFK, Jr.? Now you're talking!

Posted by: kathyfitz16 | November 6, 2008 8:53 PM | Report abuse

While I'm a big fan of the Kennedy family I think he would be more of a celebrity than an actual Administrator. Someone with extensive experience running a state environmental agency would be a much better choice. David Paylor of Virginia comes to mind along with Katie McGinty or Bradley Campbell of NJ.

Posted by: graciejane4 | November 6, 2008 8:52 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, Gore for EPA sounds like a much better choice all the way.

Posted by: siniod | November 6, 2008 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Great choice.

he position of EPA chief has required, and will require, continual compromise between environmental sustainability and development. I question Kennedy's ability to achieve this balance""

Sir, that's because the current system is so out of balance. We've ignored the promise of job creation through green employment for too long.

Don't make the same mistake that lead Detroit's automakers with outrageous short sightedness . . . renewables will keep this country economically sound, safe and clean and help prevent the further destruction of foreign wars.

Posted by: delantero | November 6, 2008 8:29 PM | Report abuse

i was hoping that senator obama would appoint the best & brightest to serve in his administration.appointing rfk,jr. would appear to be a political payback to the kennedy family for their endorsement/backing inspite of the fact rfk,jr.,failed to support the senator initially opting to support hillary clinton.

Posted by: ronaldtennillegeorgia1 | November 6, 2008 8:22 PM | Report abuse

I knew McGinty a bit, and she struck me as shallow and political in the worst sense of the word. Nichols isn't as flashy as McGinty, but she is worlds more competent and effective. Not even a close call.

Posted by: vorkosigan1 | November 6, 2008 8:10 PM | Report abuse

Robert F. Kennedy - great choice. I hope Obama does that.

Posted by: itsagreatday1 | November 6, 2008 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Appointing RFK Jr. would make it clear that Obama is serious about making change, not just about using the word "change" as a slogan.

Posted by: johnsonc2 | November 6, 2008 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Brilliant choice! Now, how about Patrick Kennedy for Director of MADD...

Posted by: hisroc | November 6, 2008 7:37 PM | Report abuse

I believe that RFK Jr. would be a great head of EPA.

President Obama should attach only one condition to the appointment, that is RFK Jr. should agree to turn over 39.4% of his family's vast wealth to the government so it can be redistributed to those more deserving!

Posted by: mwhoke | November 6, 2008 7:37 PM | Report abuse

I would grant that Kennedy is not lacking is zeal, but I question Kennedy's political pragmatism. The position of EPA chief has required, and will require, continual compromise between environmental sustainability and development. I question Kennedy's ability to achieve this balance, as he has in the past appeared so polemical toward the pro-development side. The head of the EPA will need to not only support the environmental cause but also to act as a policy broker. The latter may be problematic for Kennedy.

Posted by: dschrad2 | November 6, 2008 7:08 PM | Report abuse

that would be such a fantastic and inspired choice. rfk,jr has such passion for the environmental work he is doing and i have such immense respect for him.

awesome idea.

Posted by: mycomment | November 6, 2008 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Would love to see Al Gore as head of the EPA. The guy has won the Nobel, and is the most recognizable environmentalist out there..

Posted by: Torontotoad | November 6, 2008 6:38 PM | Report abuse

RFK, Jr would be an incredibly strong and wise choice. I am sure Gore would agree.

Posted by: vtcxc | November 6, 2008 6:37 PM | Report abuse

I hope this is just a trial balloon.

The idea wasn't to trade Republican cranks for Democratic ones!

Posted by: RedBird27 | November 6, 2008 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Of course the big payback from Obama for the woman bashing, woman raping, and woman killing Kenedy family will be huge.

Through their early on support they have garunteed and easily controllable President who owes them big time. Now they can be certain to control the Democratic party for at least another generation.

Sorry American women - this is not good news for any of you!

Posted by: mgd1 | November 6, 2008 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Kennedy is not qualified to be head of EPA. He would bring his own political agenda to the agency and likely tie it up in litigation for years, bringing most projects within its purview to a grinding halt. Obama should find someone who understands the balance between needed development and environmental protection. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Posted by: oldguy2 | November 6, 2008 6:11 PM | Report abuse

I just wanted to voice my agreement with the other comments that object to RFK Jr because of his stance on vaccines and autism. I have no doubt that his heart is in the right place, but he has shown a dangerous ability to ignore the science on this issue. It destroys his credibility. I sincerely hope Obama has the good sense to pick somebody else for EPA head.

Posted by: jmtpi | November 6, 2008 6:08 PM | Report abuse

This would be a very bad appointment. You don't need someone who has fallen for the pseudoscience claptrap of the antivaccination crowd to be in charge of ANY agency where review of the science is critical. The EPA has suffered long enough under Bush and Cheney; please don't continue the antiscientific oversight under a new administration!

Posted by: DaveR1 | November 6, 2008 6:05 PM | Report abuse

What an awesome statement/admission about impending tokenism:

"Several sources familiar with the transition process, however, noted the new administration will be looking to appoint several women and people of color to high-profile positions and EPA would be a natural slot for such an appointment."

Posted by: nowanna1 | November 6, 2008 6:01 PM | Report abuse

I understand how having a Kennedy on board is a nice "get," but why aren't we considering Gore for the EPA?!? Is there any bigger advocate for the environment these days (not named Leonardo)?

Posted by: snideproject | November 6, 2008 6:01 PM | Report abuse

As the parent of a child with autism, I hope very much that RFK Jr. is not a part of the new administration.

He wrote a terrible piece for Rolling Stone, claiming vaccines cause autism and that there was a conspiracy by the government and vaccine makers to cover it up. It was bad enough that Rolling Stone ran not one, but three corrections in later issues.

The science was bad then, it's worse now, and still he can be found on Capital Hill rallies supporting the vaccine/autism crowd.

This one subject has caused a huge division in our community, not to mention sent many children to therapies completely untested for safety.

Adding him to the administration would only give his voice more emphasis.

Besides--doesn't anyone find it odd that this idea seems to be sourced to only one place (Politico) and, for that matter, why is EPA being discussed so early in the transition? Finance--that's an important place to start right now.

This looks like a trial balloon--by someone supporting RFK Jr, not by the Obama team.

Posted by: olefin | November 6, 2008 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Can't speak about the other candidates, but I can tell you that the vast majority of EPA employees that work with CARB believe that Mary Nichols would be a complete disaster. The EPA under Clinton was actually worse off than under the first Bush, and Mary was a significant part of that disappointment. She's probably being considered so prominently now because of her experience with cap and trade programs (currently the hot new thing), but virtually all experienced, rank-and-file EPA employees can tell you that such programs, though they look great on paper, are frauds in practice -- they can always be gamed to benefit the connected few at the expense of human health and the environment. Mary would not represent change we can believe in, but rather more of the same giveaway of our environment to industry under the guise of "free market" principles (and as Dr. Phil would say, "how's that been working for ya lately?").

Posted by: cheatstrong | November 6, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I sure hope that Jr. is NOT appointed to head the EPA. He has shown the same politicization of science, albeit from a different direction, that we have suffered with for the past eight years. Jr. held on to the totally scientifically discredited notion that the mercury based preservative Thimerosal, that used to be used in vaccines caused autism. He held on way past the point where anyone with a high school knowledge of chemistry and biology would have.

Wired posted:

Obama's Most Important Science Decision: Picking EPA Head

They suggested several excellent alternatives, all without Jr. baggage:

Former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection head Kathleen McGinty; California Air Resources Board leader Mary Nichols; Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection leader Ian Bowles; Kansas governor Kathleen Sibelius; New Jersey environmental commissioner Lisa Jackson.

Of the candidates, McGinty, Bowles and Sebelius have excellent track records on clean energy, and Jackson has a strong record on conservation and pollution control. Nichols has served in the EPA under Clinton, and California has led the battle to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as pollution.

They are all far more qualified than Junior.

Posted by: TheProbe | November 6, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

The transition team should carefully evaluate RFK Jr.'s personal holdings. While he may be qualified, it is thought by many, for example, that his opposition to the Cape Wind alternative energy project in Nantucket Sound was at least partially the result of the coastal location of the Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport, MA. These type of conflicts of interest do not enhance the stature of our representatives in Washington.

Posted by: ArbyWriter | November 6, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

That would be interesting - someone interested in protecting the environment. So long, Environmental Plundering Agency.

Posted by: jhusson1 | November 6, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse


• Real Justice, Poetic and Otherwise


Ensuring the civil liberties of all Americans, weeding out prejudice, and reversing policies and practices that violate the U.S. Constitution must be a top priority of the new administration.

The free ride for the forces of hate and extremism, hiding behind bureaucratic programs originally constructed to "keep America safe," must come to a quick end.

One of the first executive orders of the new administration should be sensitivity training for all federal personnel, and a mandatory refresher course on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution.

All federal departments should be screened for policies and ongoing operations that are violating the constitutionally guaranteed civil rights and liberties of American citizens.

All laws and executive orders implemented over the past eight years should be subject to immediate review to determine whether their provisions comport with spirit and letter of the Constitution.

Also, it might be a good idea on Day One for the Obama administration to commission an independent, trusted entity to sweep all government offices, as well as private residences of key officials, for electronic surveillance devices.

BUT WILL THE ELECTION EVEN MATTER? Not as long as government-supported extrajudicial "vigilante injustice" squads are "gang stalking" American citizens, making a mockery of the rule of law:


Posted by: scrivener50 | November 6, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

RFK Jr would be an excellent pick. I would like someone with just a little more sanitation experience or view as well. You know for every $ of work we put into better sanitation, it can reap as much as $7 in health or water!

Posted by: Bendygirl | November 6, 2008 12:33 PM | Report abuse

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