Speaking at “The Next 20” seminar, hosted by the International Oeko-Tex Association in New York on Wednesday, Kennedy said the political discourse around clean energy, pollution control and wildlife conservation has distorted the picture.
“[We’re told] we have to choose between economic prosperity and environmental protection, and that’s a false choice,” he said. “Pollution is a market failure. It’s someone not paying the [full] cost of bringing their product to market and making the rest of us pay for it.”
Kennedy noted the U.S. has a great opportunity to develop cleaner, cheaper energy by exploiting solar and wind power, both of which are sufficient to meet the vast majority of current U.S. needs.
Cheaper energy also could help make American manufacturing more competitive, he added. Citing other nations including Iceland, Sweden and Costa Rica, whose economies and GDPs have grown after eliminating or reducing dependence on carbon dioxide-creating fuels, Kennedy predicted the U.S. could usher in a new era of creativity and economic growth by following suit.
But there are obstacles to developing the wind and solar power sectors, he said.
Current subsidies to the coal and natural gas industries make those energy types seem comparatively cheap, though solar prices are dropping 30 percent per year, according to Kennedy, and those prices should soon be on par with or below conventional energy across the U.S.
However, Kennedy added, the current grid is ill-equipped to accept new forms of energy, and the infrastructure doesn’t exist to transport electricity from the rural areas where it can be generated, such as North Dakota, to areas where it can be used. And that’s wasting a natural resource. “The Great Plains are the Saudi Arabia of wind,” he said.
Kennedy, who is chairman of the Waterkeeper Alliance environmental watchdog group, was the keynote speaker for the event, which celebrated 20 years of the Oeko-Tex environmental standards for textiles.