Opinion

Statehouse Efforts in 2018 to Protect R.I.’s Environment Were Simply Stupid

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Taking the natural world for granted and abusing its life-support systems is, to put it succinctly, stupid.

Unfortunately, the roots of stupidity run deep on Smith Hill. I’m not using the word stupid to be lazy or mean-spirited. The recently completed 2018 General Assembly session provides ample proof that collective label is fair, and may fit better than greedy, corrupt, or ignorant.

The definition of the word stupid, according to Merriam-Webster: a) slow of mind; b) given to unintelligent decisions or acts, acting in an unintelligent or careless manner; c) lacking intelligence or reason.

Exhibit A
Rep. Michael Morin, D-Woonsocket, actually filed a bill that called for increasing the amount of dangerous flame retardants used in residential upholstered bedding and furniture by 900 percent.

“Beginning on July 1, 2019, no manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer may manufacture, knowingly sell, offer for sale, or distribute for use in this state any residential upholstered bedding or furniture, which contains [one hundred parts per million (100 ppm) was stricken] one thousand parts per million (1,000 ppm) or greater of any organohalogen flame retardant chemical,” according to H8347.

The bill was purportedly submitted to keep children safe — presumably from a maniac with a flamethrower.

Flame retardants, however, are pollutants that are omnipresent in the environment and accumulate in the fat of wildlife, pets, and humans. Some are legal for use in all consumer products. Others are known to be toxic and banned from certain products, such as children’s pajamas, but are still poured into things as varied as electronics, clothing, upholstery, and commercial textiles.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, some of the most common flame retardants have been linked to cancer, lower IQ, and reduced fertility, and they can harm fetal and child development.

During the 2017 General Assembly session, a Senate bill would have banned the sale of bedding and furniture in Rhode Island that contained organohalogens, an entire class of chemicals that has been associated with serious human health problems.

That bill likely died in committee, or some special Senate study committee that failed to ever meet missed its deadline.

As for Morin’s bill, it never made it to committee, and met the same fate as much-wiser bills that called for the creation of a carbon-fee-and-dividend program and another that would have made carbon emission targets enforceable.

Exhibit B
As climate-change pressures mount and the federal government takes a blowtorch to environmental protections, the Statehouse did virtually nothing during the past six months to protect the Ocean State.

As my colleague Tim Faulkner reported, the 2018 General Assembly session was by all accounts unremarkable for environmental progress. There was no major legislation passed related to climate change, energy, waste reduction, or environmental justice.

Rep. Art Handy, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and the Environment, told the ecoRI News Statehouse reporter that the session was “slow” for environmental bills.

“Some (bills) should have had a better shot,” he said.

The ones that did make it to the governor’s desk were, well, stupid.

For example, a bill was passed that requires schools to make their “best efforts” to have students in grades K-12 take at least one field trip to a nature preserve each year. This kind of bill is an example of the General Assembly giving its best effort to protect the environment.

Exhibit C
The General Assembly and governor couldn’t find $200,000 in the $9 billion fiscal 2019 budget to study a statewide fee on carbon emissions — a study the Statehouse committed to last year. (There are millions in the budget, though, to help a collection of multimillionaires build a new minor-league baseball stadium).

During the 2017 General Assembly session, the Legislature passed and Gov. Gina Raimondo signed a bill authorizing a study to examine a statewide carbon-pricing program. The study was supposed to be led by the state Office of Energy Resources (OER), but no money was made available and the bill’s special committee was never created. The report’s deadline has long past.

OER’s commissioner, Carol Grant, has said her office will speak with any potential funders.

Perhaps Grant should reach out to the members of the legislative commission created to study the impacts of offshore wind turbines for a handout. Their investigation should be wrapping up quickly, since the state’s Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP), one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind, already addresses that issue.

This study bill was sponsored by Representatives Sherry Roberts, West Greenwich; Robert Quattrocchi, Scituate; Justin Price, Richmond; Robert Lancia, Cranston; and Patricia Morgan, West Warwick. The Republican Five have linked the death of a humpback whale that washed ashore in Jamestown last summer to the Block Island Wind Farm. No evidence has linked the five turbines to the whale’s death, but these purported Statehouse naturalists are concerned nonetheless.

In discussing climate change with ecoRI News last year, however, Morgan expressed far less concern for an extinct land-based mammal, saying, “Climate change is happening, but human beings are smart, and we’ll figure it out. Mastodons in Rhode Island couldn’t adapt and died. Humans can adapt.”

She supports the expansion of the Algonquin Gas pipeline, telling me last year that this added fossil fuel will help Rhode Island residents and businesses have a better life and be more successful.

The Environment Council of Rhode Island’s most recent biannual Green Report Card gave Morgan an F. Roberts, Price, and Lanica also earned Fs. Quattrocchi was elected in November 2016.

The death of the Jamestown whale is one in a spike in humpback deaths along the East Coast that started before the blades of the country’s first offshore wind facility even began spinning.

Offshore wind turbines certainly add to the cacophony of underwater noise created by boats, ships and barges, sonar, fossil-fuel drilling, bottom trawling, and military exercises and testing that stress marine mammals and other sea life. Vessel strikes and entanglements with fishing gear are the main human-caused killers of whales.

Sea life also suffers from a growing flood of plastic, such as ubiquitous retail bags. A statewide ban on plastic checkout bags and Styrofoam food containers didn’t advance this year. None of the Republican Five was a sponsor of the House version.

Exhibit D
In support of a bill that advocated grouping the incineration of wood with wind and solar power as a renewable energy, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said, “I don’t think this is an incinerator. It’s a very clean power.”

The North Providence Democrat must think Rhode Islanders are stupid.

Incinerators have been banned in Rhode Island since the 1990s. Research continues to find that burning woody biomass such as scrap and junk lumber speeds up the release of carbon dioxide, compared to wood that decomposes naturally. The practice also emits high levels of particulate matter that contribute to air pollution.

“Biomass power plants are also a danger to the climate, emitting nearly 50 percent more CO2 per megawatt generated than the next biggest carbon polluter, coal,” according to a 2014 study. “Emissions of CO2 from biomass burning can theoretically be offset over time, but such offsets typically take decades to fully compensate for the CO2 rapidly injected into the atmosphere during plant operation.”

In ignoring science, research, and local environmental concern, Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, said during the May 2 Senate vote that approved the wood-incineration bill, “This process is more efficient, producing more energy with less emissions, and much cleaner than burning or throwing the wood away.”

After Raimondo promised to veto the bill and its future was put on hold, Rep. Kenneth Marshall, D-Bristol, who introduced the House version of the bill, said a vocal minority — does he mean those who have read the research and believe the science? — has otherwise derailed legislation that benefits the entire state.

“It seems to have taken a life of of its own with the people against it,” he said. “They made it appear it was a bad thing.”

The state’s largest speed bump is in front of the Statehouse for a reason.

Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.

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  1. Excellent article! I am not sure what those people do up there on Smith Hill but most of it pays no attention to RI environmental concerns.

  2. Until the Democratic Party repudiates the stupid people making policy in RI, especially statehouse leadership, RI will coninnue to go downhill. What the Democratic leadershipo is unable and unwlling to see is that the future of the economy depends upon ecological healing and economic justice. We get neither from Smith Hill.

  3. “Taking the natural world for granted and abusing its life-support systems is, to put it succinctly, stupid.”

    Exhibit E: Proposing to build a fossil-fueled power plant in the middle of the state’s most ecologically significant forest in Burrillville. In normal times such a project, the largest in the state’s history, would be vetted by an environmental impact statement, as was done for the Ocean State Power facility in 1988. An EIS that was requested at the time by then Governor Diprete and the EFSB.

    But an EIS is the last thing this Governor and this EFSB want. Why? Because the site proposed for the Clear River Energy Center was rejected in 1988 as an alternate site for Ocean State Power because, as declared by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, it was “inconsistent with surrounding land uses.” Not something Invenergy, the current Administration, or the EFSB want you to know about.

    So, instead of an EIS we have a cocky EFSB believing they can permit the CREC on their own, basing their decision on the advisory opinions of state agencies, which have proven to be highly biased in favor of the CREC. (I don’t need to explain this last statement – that has been done several times already in previous ecoRI articles.) Unfortunately, the EFSB decided it wasn’t necessary to seek the advisory opinions from any Federal agencies, including the USFWS, or from environmental agencies in Connecticut and Massachusetts, or anyone from these two states that are within 3 miles of the proposed site.

    What has been the response of the state’s political elite? Nothing, except the oft heard phrase, “let the process play out”. But the process they speak of is not the right one. The title “Energy Facility Siting Board” is a misnomer, as this body isn’t deciding on the site. They’ve already been told where the power plant will be by Invenergy.

    Again, in normal times the site would have been determined by an EIS, just like in 1988 when more than 80 sites were considered for Ocean State Power, more than 200 pages of the EIS devoted to the selection of the least environmentally harmful site. That is the process that should have played out before an application was made to the EFSB. Instead, they let Invenergy choose, and they selected the most environmentally harmful site. If you doubt this last statement be aware that Invenergy has already proposed buying 150 acres of land for “conservation” elsewhere in Burrillville to compensate for the unavoidable impacts to wetlands their power plant will cause.

    How does this relate to our stupid General Assembly? Why hasn’t anyone in this austere body requested an EIS? The answer of course is simple. I often wonder, if the Governor touting this project had been a Republican………

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