Latest R.I. Green Report Card Gives Statehouse an ‘Incomplete and Lacking Leadership’
October 31, 2020
The Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI) isn’t pleased with the environmental results at the Statehouse, so much so that rather than issue grades it gave lawmakers and Gov. Gina Raimondo an “incomplete and lacking leadership.”
The organization’s 2019-2020 Green Report Card admonishes state representatives and senators for passing next to nothing to protect the environment and public health during the last two General Assembly sessions.
“During two years in which the need for action was clearer than ever, both the administration and the General Assembly failed to take concrete steps towards environmental protection and climate justice in Rhode Island,” according to ECRI, a coalition of some 60 Rhode Island organizations and individuals.
Certainly, much of the blame for the lack of progress falls on House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, D-North Providence, the leaders who decide which bills advance in their respective chambers.
In the 2017-2018 report card, the Senate received a C-. The House earned a C. With an absence of new environmental laws during the last two years, ECRI’s 20-page report simply tallies the number of environmental bills each state representative and senator sponsored and co-sponsored.
ECRI’s priority bills for this year included a statewide plastic bag ban (S2003 and H7306), siting rules for solar-energy projects (H7426), binding climate-emission reductions (S2165 and H7399), a carbon-fee program (S2108), and appliance efficiency standards (S2043 and H7866). All have been paused because of the coronavirus pandemic.
While other states have managed to resume legislative hearings and pass bills, Rhode Island legislators have only focused on the budget and COVID-related bills. The 2020 open-space protection bond referendum, the only environmental budget item, has also languished, but may be addressed if the General Assembly follows through on its intention to resume after the election.
This year bills addressing a range of environmental issues had hearings. They covered forest management, open-space protection, industrial chemical pollution, plastic packaging, and balloon restrictions.
The ECRI report doesn’t spare Raimondo from criticism. Her initiatives are seen as aspirational and fall short of addressing the state’s environmental challenges.
ECRI noted that Raimondo has made some progress, such as providing funding for local climate adaptation programs. Plans are also underway for heating sector transformation and delivering all of Rhode Island’s electricity from renewable energy by 2030. The governor has additional studies moving forward for carbon pricing and decarbonizing the transportation sector.
“Can the Governor implement the recommendations of these studies,” the report asks, “or will their binders languish on agency shelves and leave Rhode Islanders vulnerable to overlapping environmental and health crises?”
ECRI praises Raimondo for achieving 1,000 megawatts of pledged renewable energy by this year. But failed to mention that Raimondo fell short of her goal of 20,000 “clean tech” jobs by 2020.
Raimondo’s director of the Department of Transportation, Peter Alviti, is knocked for moving money from bicycle and pedestrian initiatives to highway projects. Alviti and Raimondo are considered tone-deaf for moving forward with a multi-bus station plan despite opposition from environmental, low-income, and transit advocates.
ECRI said it will continue to focus on passing legislation that supports: mandatory carbon-emission reductions; a 100 percent renewable-energy standard; additional offshore wind contracts; solar-incentive programs; the Transportation & Climate Initiative; environmental education; policies that protect forests, open space, and natural resources; and reduce plastic waste and harmful chemicals such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
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