Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sat down with Video4Good at the 2012 COMMIT!Forum in New York.  In an extended interview, Kennedy discusses his career in the environmental movement and the impacts of business on the planet.  He explores the roots of environmental problems, analyzes the current situation and offers solutions for creating a healthy, prosperous future for society and the natural world.

In this video, Part Three of the interview, he explains how corporations that externalize their costs to society, particularly environmental impacts, negatively affect market efficiencies and the democratic process.


I spent a lot of time in West Virginia litigating against the coal industry.  There’s 3,000 coal roads in West Virginia that have 22 inch asphalt on them.  18 to 22 inches and every inch costs the taxpayer millions of dollars per land, and the reason they have that is because the coal trucks weigh 40,000 pounds and they pulverize the surface. But it’s not the coal companies that are paying for those roads.  It’s the taxpayers of the state.

So, that’s an externalized cost of coal – a rather minor one but it’s emblematic of what they do, in every aspect of their business.

So that’s a cost of coal that they don’t tell you about and they say, oh, it’s only 11 cents a kilowatt hour.  Your life has been diminished in a way that could be represented in money.  There’s a recent study on EPA’s website by the Harvard School of Public Health, a peer-reviewed  study that shows that the cost of coal — on the ozone and particulates which is yet another pollutant.  That is emitted by the roughly 600 coal burning power plants in the country. It kills 60,000 Americans every year, 20 times the number of people killed in the World Trade Center attacks, causes millions of asthma attacks, millions of lost work days.  And medical costs to the American medical system of $375 billion annually.

You don’t pay for it, we pay for it and you know we — I was told when I was in kindergarten that I am suppose to clean up after myself.  That applies to our industry too.  If you want to bring a product to market you will need to pay the cost of getting it there.  You cannot internalize your profits and then externalize your costs for society to pay them.  So, our objective has been not to attack capitalism but to attack the people who are cheating capitalism, who are distorting it by getting these hidden subsidies for themselves, which distort the whole marketplace and make it less efficient and ultimately less prosperous and ultimately far less democratic.