The Waterkeeper Alliance (WA) is an umbrella organization of approximately 120 environmental activist groups involved in water-related issues. It was created in 1999 by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., son of the late U.S. Senator. Many such “waterkeeper” or “baykeeper” groups already existed, thinking of themselves as a “neighborhood watch” to spot polluters and enforce environmental laws. Kennedy created WA as an overarching organization to unite these disparate water-related groups. He has been the organization’s President since its inception.
WA has filed trademark claims on words such as “waterkeeper,” “lakekeeper,” “baykeeper” and “coastkeeper,” and now requires environmental groups that want to use such names to purchase a license from the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Around 2000, Kennedy began organizing a collection of trial lawyer firms, roughly half of which were already involved in lawsuits against tobacco companies, to sue giant pork producers and processors such as Smithfield, Premium Standard, Bell Farms, Cargill, Land O’Lakes, and Hormel. Each of these law firms committed itself to an initial “ante” of $50,000 to work with Kennedy, who in January 2001 estimated potential “damages” that could be gotten from the pork industry at $9-13 billion — a potentially lucrative undertaking for victorious trial lawyers. Kennedy was keynote speaker at a gathering that featured anti-pork industry trial lawyers on January 11, 2001, in New Bern, North Carolina. If and when any material from pork farms or processing facilities is believed to have contaminated a river, stream, lake, bay or coastline, Kennedy publicizes the case and its alleged risks to human health, in an effort to create a public and political environment conducive to winning large lawsuits by his trial attorney allies.This Waterkeeper legal machine has already filed lawsuits in North Carolina, Missouri and Florida seeking triple damages under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statutes written to combat organized crime. After the first of these cases was thrown out of court in North Carolina in March 2001, Kennedy days later told the Associated Press: “We have lawyers with the deepest pockets, and they’ve agreed to fight the industry to the end. We’re going to go after all of them.”WA has also sued the pharmaceutical company Bayer for the purported downstream impact of its livestock antibiotic Baytril.
The chief funders for Kennedy’s Waterkeeper Alliance are the trial lawyers seeking to profit from its activism. Kennedy also founded a bottled water company, Keeper Springs, whose profits go to this 501(c)3 non-profit entity. Other funders of WA include the Bauman Family Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Turner Foundation, the Vira I. Heinz Endowment, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and numerous others.