Opinion

R.I. Lawmakers Slink Into Summer Having Jilted Environment and Public Health

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The recent decision by the Energy Facility Siting Board was a victory for common sense. The board’s three members didn’t put on a show. Instead, they simply explained why energy from the proposed fossil-fuel power plant wasn’t needed. They also called out the developer’s deception.

Unfortunately, this kind of reason is the rare exception rather than the rule on Smith Hill. The 2019 session of the General Assembly once again proved way too many Rhode Island lawmakers have a blatant disregard for the voiceless and the vulnerable. They are ignorant about climate change. They don’t give a damn about the future, even if they have children and grandchildren. Paltry campaign donations can make them look the other way as air quality is threatened, forestland clear-cut, and taxpayers scammed.

Nature is crying for mercy, but far too many of our lawmakers only hear the ka-ching of campaign dollars.

The fiscal 2020 state budget had $1 million set aside for a Cranston chiropractor who practices pseudo-medicine. Since 2004, Rhode Island lawmakers have steered at least $1.88 million, often laundered through the state Department of Education, in taxpayer money to a University of Vermont graduate with a degree in zoology who provides an “innovative treatment for brain-based disorders” — presumably in humans.

This year, the House speaker, a lawyer whose “leadership” is openly defined by how it benefits him and his friends, decided the chiropractor, whose business office is also on Park Avenue in Cranston, deserved a huge taxpayer-funded raise. The zoology major has donated $2,000 to the leading House hack since 2011.

While the General Assembly and governor’s office made sure the million dollars were included in the new budget — it was yanked only after some excellent reporting by WPRI, Uprise RI, and other media outlets exposed the ongoing scam — the vast majority of elected officials did nada during the past six months to address issues related to climate change, environmental protections, and public health. Once again, they kicked the leaking oil barrel down the road. This annual exercise of avoidance is their collective gift to future generations.

As climate-change pressures mount, big-idea initiatives such as carbon pricing and binding greenhouse-gas reductions were again too hot to handle. Climate change is too big for Little Rhody to tackle. Think Big is for the state university, not the Statehouse.

The state’s elected officials couldn’t even muster the political fortitude to pass a non-binding resolution that supported the non-binding Green New Deal, which, contrary to the perpetual noise machine, won’t make hamburgers illegal, ground airplanes, and make chariots the primary means of transportation.

What the Green New Deal does is advocate for the replacement of lead water pipes, the remediation of hazardous waste sites, and a reduction in air and water pollution from fossil fuels. The document calls for building energy-efficient homes, better access to renewable energy, and more reliable options for affordable public transportation. It supports greater racial and economic equity.

It’s a guiding principle Rhode Island lawmakers are afraid to support.

Collectively, the state’s 113 General Assembly members did nothing this session to incentivize or better direct ground-mounted solar development away from woodlands and other open space to already-disturbed areas. It will be at least another year in which trees are bulldozed for utility-scale solar projects as underused asphalt cracks, vacant buildings deteriorate, and industrial rooftops collect increasing amounts of rain.

It’s been two years since the governor has given the issue of renewable-energy development much thought. That’s when she announced her goal of 1,000 megawatts of “clean” energy by 2020. For her and her administration, siting particulars aren’t something to fret about. Her pulled-from-the-ether goal is some 600 megawatts short, which may help explain why Rhode Island has embraced solar sprawl and the construction of neighborhood wind turbines under the cover of darkness.

As a final insulting kick, 98 General Assembly members voted in favor of a last-minute bill to increase the amount of organohalogen flame retardants in bedding, upholstered furniture, and children’s products from 100 parts per million to 1,000. Three lawmakers voted against the bill, and 12 were absent when the vote was taken. No one besides industry lobbyists is clamoring for more chemicals in kids’ toys.

According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine, there is mounting evidence that many flame retardants are associated with adverse human health effects.

A coalition of organizations and individuals recently petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission to initiate regulatory action to ban the use of organohalogen flame retardants in four product categories: infant, toddler, or children’s products; upholstered furniture; mattresses; and plastic electronic casings. The petitioners argued that the entire chemical class is toxic and poses a risk to consumers.

In 2017, a 15-year Providence firefighter — she retired in 2016 because of occupational cancer — testified at a Senate committee hearing that flame retardants may slow fires but the smoldering of fabric and furniture releases a harmful concentration of toxins.

According to the lone state senator who voted against increasing the amount of toxins in consumer products, a number of his colleagues who voted in favor told him afterward they thought it was a bad bill.

That’s the kind of “leadership” Rhode Islanders have come to expect. It’s pathetic.

Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.

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  1. Excellent article !!!! Feeling frustrated with the way our state is being run. Nothing is being accomplished. It’s all about pandering to the people with deep pockets. Corruption and ignorance !!! The voiceless remain unrepresented and the politicians do nothing that they promise. As far as renewable energy is concerned it should be properly sited. Not plopped wherever certain people get a nice monetary gain at hundreds of others expense. Wildlife and people shouldn’t have to suffer in order to be green. Green should be beneficial to all. The legislation created by senator Lombardi with regards to giving notification to those potentially impacted by projects (solar, wind or any type of project that creates noise pollution etc..) was not even able to pass !!! So ridiculous that they won’t give us a voice in things that affect us!!!

  2. God forbid the State Assembly ACTUALLY does the right Thing by its voters and the environment by actually passing laws to see to it Polluters get seriously Fined or throw in Jail for polluting… We cannot have the state assembly biting the crooked hands that pays them off…..

  3. Frank, I’m in complete agreement on the quality of government in Rhode Island. I particularly liked this line in your column, "The 2019 session of the General Assembly once again proved way too many Rhode Island lawmakers have a blatant disregard for the voiceless and the vulnerable. " Reference the back-handed way the State passed the pro-abortion bill the other day. You want voiceless and vulnerable, I give you unborn children. But that’s all I agreed with you on. It could be misunderstanding, but whenever I read your columns, Socialism bleeds through as the solution. All we need to do is have government pass the necessary legislation, give them more power to affect change, our kind of change. From every standpoint I completely disagree. Until you get the world’s biggest polluters on board – China and India – your efforts will be ineffectual. While you’re railing against the Rhode Island state house (justifiably), how are those negotiations going with China? That’s what I thought. From an American standpoint, I vehemently disagree. In the 20th century we fought a world war against National Socialists in Germany and Italy, and a damn long Cold War against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic. Pretty good polluters, the lot of them. That Socialism is a bane on mankind is demonstrable over and over again, in every country it’s been tried. Our latest contestant being Venezuela, where everyone is equally poor (no income inequality except for President Maduro and a couple thousand of his friends who are wildly wealthy), where there is no opportunity, not enough food, not even any toilet paper. Genius. Let’s do that here. AOC. Really? I happened to be paying attention to the news the day her New Green Deal came out. Let’s all get electric cars. And solar panels. Great. And what do you do with all of those batteries, and solar panels when you’re done with them? How about electrical distribution to accommodate demand? And let’s retro-fit every building in the country. And pay people who can’t work, or DON’T WANT TO WORK. Yes, I remember that day. She was almost brilliant. But idiotic instead. So we should take a country known the world over as "the land of opportunity", where freedom and opportunity are available to EVERYONE and turn it into a socialist paradise where we can all practically starve waiting on the government to fix things, but we can feel better about ourselves because we’re not killing the planet anymore. The Chinese will be. Great.

    • Even though you are using this space to rail against women’s health choices, you do ask a good question: "And what do you do with all of those batteries, and solar panels when you’re done with them?" After the state has pushed for the deforestation of 1000’s of acres to ground mount 1000’s of solar panels in residential neighborhoods, what will be left behind?

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