Gov. Raimondo Offers New Vision for Renewables, Transit
January 15, 2020
PROVIDENCE — Some of the loudest applause during Gov. Gina Raimondo’s State of the State address on Jan. 14 came after proclamations and promises on environmental issues.
The line “we have to address climate change with urgency” was well received, as was the pledge to become the first state “to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by the end of this decade.”
On Twitter, local environmentalists wanted to know if Raimondo meant “renewable energy” or “renewable electricity.” The distinction being that 100 percent renewable energy implies that transportation, heating, and power plants run on wind, solar, or perhaps even nuclear energy.
Achieving 100 percent renewable energy is a much bigger task than powering the electric grid with renewables, which will likely be achieved by the surge of offshore wind facilities being built in the coming decade.
A governor’s spokesperson later clarified that Raimondo meant renewable electricity, and noted that initiatives are underway to decarbonize transportation and the heating sector.
These distinctions and others will likely be clarified Friday morning when Raimondo is expected to sign an executive order launching the renewables goal.
In her speech Tuesday, Raimondo also presented a vision of high-speed commuter trains and buses running between Providence and Boston. She pledged improved access to public transportation for all Rhode Islanders, with dedicated bus lanes and solar-powered electric buses. She hailed the start of construction of the Pawtucket-Central Falls rail station.
“That’s within our grasp right now,” she said. “It’s not 10 or 20 years down the road. It’s today.”
The governor failed to mention the Transportation & Climate Initiative, a 12-state regional fee on gasoline and diesel fuel that would subsidize decarbonizing the transportation sector — the largest source of greenhouse gases in the Northeast.
The initial memorandum of understanding (MOU) was released in December, and the governors of both New Hampshire and Vermont have already promised to back out of the program. Connecticut and Maine are expressing doubt. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is a staunch supporter.
Raimondo was an early backer but has kept quiet since the draft MOU was issued. House Speaker Nicolas Mattiello said he will not support a “gas tax,” but noted that the proposal will receive a committee hearing.
Raimondo did pledge to cut the car tax again, a move that plays well to the automobile-reliant populous but is generally considered a step backwards for advancing a multi-transit mindset.
In the Republican response, House Minority Leader Blake Filippi didn’t mention climate change but offered a list of goals: protecting eroding shorelines; dam repair; restoring funding to the Department of Environmental Management; and removing lead from drinking-water pipes.
The Charlestown representative also said Republicans will offer “smart proposals” that protect the constitutional right to shoreline access “while respecting private property.”
And an issue not heard at the Statehouse in recent years, Filippi mentioned the need to manage state forests “that are primed for fires similar to the 1942 disaster.”
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