Government

Business Plan Calls for Environmental Management to be, Well, ‘Pro-Business’

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PROVIDENCE — Environmental groups are troubled by a proposal from a business advocacy group to radically shift state offices and departments.

In a plan called “Systematic Restructuring,” the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) subjugates the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and most other agencies under the supervision of business-focused committees.

The DEM, in particular, would be overseen by a secretary of commerce as well as an executive of commerce.

Environmental groups say the proposal is the result of a “pro-business” movement that perceives state regulations and environmental rules as impediments to economic growth.

“I’m not happy,” Tricia Jedele, president of the Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI), said during the group’s recent monthly meeting.

Jedele said the project appears to have been “done in a vacuum” without input from environmental groups or even state agencies. She said calls to the governor’s office haven’t been returned.

“I’m in shock the report came out. It’s a left hook,” said Jamie Rhodes, director of Clean Water Action’s Rhode Island office.

ECRI members were incredulous that Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a self-proclaimed advocate for the environment, could endorse the idea. “Isn’t this a reaction to the Curt Shilling thing and debacle at the (Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation)?” said Eugenia Marks of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

ECRI plans to write a letter of protest to the plan, contingent on the backing of it 60 member groups and individuals.

The action by RIPEC seems to fall within its stated goals. In it mission statement, RIPEC, a nonprofit advocacy group, states that it intends “to improve government agencies, assist elected officials and staff in sound policies and programs” and “promotes a public policy agenda to foster a climate for economic opportunity.”

Its board of directors is made up of top management and administrators at Rhode Island businesses and universities. Amica CEO Robert DiMuccio serves as president. He states in an online letter that the “RIPEC board of directors believes that it is time for Rhode Island to take the necessary steps towards fundamental and transformative, yet compassionate and affordable change in the funding, provision and delivery of state and local services.”

RIPEC said its Sept. 25 proposal was developed after Chafee asked for an analysis of the troubled Economic Development Corporation (EDC). RIPEC said it used the request to take a “broader look” at economic issues in the state. In the plan, the departments of transportation and education would serve under a new Commerce Coordinating Council. RIPEC also proposes a “customer-centric approach” that advocates for outside groups to manage state loan programs, which may include the EDC’s Renewable Energy Fund.

RIPEC is already moving ahead with engaging the state legislature to advance the project. A committee overseeing some of the changes would include “a broad coalition of stakeholders,” according to the report.

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  1. This is a bad idea, and an attempt to remove environmental oversight from businesses. Giving companies free-range to trash the planet at no cost to them is not "economic development".

    That being said, the state should look at it's regulations one-by-one and determine if they successful, fair, and useful. Something that sounds like a good idea on Smith HIll may cause undo pain with little gain down the road.

    It's crazy to risk putting a RI company out of business because of a regulation that could be tweaked slightly to both protect the environment as intended AND keep the business solvent.

    Business and environment need not be enemies..if the two groups would work together more, more good could be done for all. Business is clearly profit-driven, but the environmental groups are to blame, as well. Saying "everyone should stop using anything harmful to the environment" may make you feel good, but it sets up confrontation and gets nothing accomplished. Making suggestions for small, pain-free adjustments that are feasible on a large scale…now THAT is where the big wins are.

    Don't say "You should never drink a DD coffee, that cup will be around forever" solves nothing. Setting up a system where that coffee cup can be recycled…now THAT keeps a ton of waste out of the landfill!

  2. Given that RIPEC has completely misjudged where the economy is going, and that the only way to move forward economically in RI is to practice ecological healing and a shrinking of inequality in the economy, it is clear that if RI follows the RIPEC formula we shall be in deep doo doo. just liek every other time we followed the advice of the 1% CRIMINALS

  3. This is a terrible idea, and sounds like a power grab to me. As it is, the state's environmental program has been gutted. If anything, DEM needs to be strengthened, not weakened. Part of the problem, as I see it, is that some of DEM's programs (and I'm most familiar with site remediation) are inflexible and they are slow slow slow to respond (but what can one expect when their staffing is cut cut cut).

    I believe DEM could be more effective and even business-friendly if they had a better risk management policy with flexible options to safely clean up sites and get them back into use and onto the tax roles. DEM's approach to risk assessment is antiquated (and since this is my job, I know) and their Remediation Regulations are written in such a way as to discourage use of risk assessment that, elsewhere, is used to identify less espensive yet safe ways of cleaning up sites. They should also adopt an LSP-type program, like in Massachusetts, where decisions on remediating sites are made by licensed professionals in the private sector, and the state mainly performs audits. This system works pretty well (although could be speeded up some).

    Business will never put environmental concerns in the appropriate place and a degradation of environmental quality is a sure result. This proposal has the fox guarding the henhouse, and would not be good for Rhode Island at all.

  4. In my industry offers to purchase unused land or buildings can include up to a two year window to obtain permits. It's ridiculous that the regulations don't clearly state what an owner can do by "right". Sure if she wants to fill the wetland instead of bridging it, let her wait two years for permission. If allowed, then the permit should be issued the day it's asked for. The fact that we need a "fast track" system for moving economic important projects is proof the system is broken.

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