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Robert Kennedy Jr. wants to send a message

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. flew over the West Virginia coalfields this week to get a better view of mountaintop removal mines.

Kennedy lunched with West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney, and listened to coalfield residents during a staged town meeting at a Raleigh County church.

The three-day tour was all part of Kennedy's effort to get a wider audience to hear his message about the "Crimes Against Nature" - the title of his 2004 book - that he says companies commit and governments ignore.

Filmmaker Angus Yates and writer Clara Bingham are turning Kennedy's book into a movie, a move that has drawn comparisons to the Oscar-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," about Al Gore's famous global warming slide show.

And as it did in the book, mountaintop removal in West Virginia is expected to be among Kennedy's examples of environmental outrages. Parts of the film, for example, will focus on the battle over a huge coal processing plant and waste impoundment near Marsh Fork Elementary School near Sundial.

"It's more than a sound bite," Kennedy said during an interview Wednesday in Charleston. "It's the destruction of a resource."

Kennedy had seen mountaintop removal from the air before. After a May 2002 flight, he recounted the view in his book as "a sight that would sicken most Americans."

After this week's flyover, Kennedy said the damage had only gotten worse.

"Even if they stop today, they've done so much damage," Kennedy said, his voice trailing off. "This is the worst stuff I've seen anywhere."

Kennedy is an environmental lawyer and the son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and a nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy.

Even before his book was published, Kennedy was speaking out about mountaintop removal. During an October 2001 speech at the University of Charleston, he called the practice "the worst example of what human beings can do to their environment when they behave irresponsibly."

And in Kennedy's view, it is pollution - not environmental regulations that restrict pollution - that amounts to a legal "taking" or a crime against society.

"If you pollute a creek and a child gets sick, that's child abuse," Kennedy said. "If you pollute air and a child has an asthma attack, that's assault and battery."

Above all, Kennedy says that blowing up mountains and burying streams is taking precious resources that rightly belong to the public and to future generations.

"They are stealing historic landscapes," Kennedy said. "They are stealing an entire state."

And like Gore, Kennedy also connects environmental problems to large issues in society. He favors campaign finance reform, thinks newspapers and other media need to do more investigative reporting, and wants to impeach President Bush.

"It's important to impeach Bush as a civics lesson - to say to the American people that America doesn't torture people," Kennedy said. "We do not intercept the telephone conversations of hundreds of thousands of American citizens illegally.

"You can't just tear up the Bill of Rights," he said. "He has to be impeached. The American people have to remember how sacred the Constitution of the United States is."


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