McKee, Kalus Tackle Environmental Issues at Annual Audubon Meeting


Rhode Island gubernatorial candidates Ashley Kalus and Gov. Dan McKee spoke at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island's annual meeting. Each candidate outlined their environmental agenda. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

BRISTOL, R.I. — Gov. Dan McKee and Ashley Kalus had the chance to share their climate policy ideas at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s 125th annual meeting Sunday.

The gubernatorial candidates made pitches to members of the environment-focused education and advocacy group and fielded questions from ecoRI News Editor Bonnie Phillips.

Incumbent Democrat McKee used his 10-minute speech to discuss his record over the past 20 months as governor and the value of building on that work in a new term, while Kalus, a Republican, took her allotted time to pinpoint areas of environmental policy that she said could use improvement, including the 2021 Act on Climate law.

McKee rattled off a list of some of his environmentally focused accomplishments, including:

“We balance … the economic opportunities for our families with the environment,” he said.

McKee also mentioned signing the Act on Climate legislation, which sets a 2050 deadline for the state to reach net-zero carbon emissions.

Kalus listed different climate goals and priorities for a potential tenure as governor:

  • Preserving watersheds, coastline, meadows, and woodlands to help maintain habitat for wildlife.
  • Expanding offshore renewable energy, including floating solar kinetic power from wave technology and offshore wind power.
  • Updating Rhode Island’s infrastructure to support more electric cars.
  • Recycling tax credit for companies that recycle.
  • Implementing resiliency plans on the municipal level.

Kalus also said she did not believe that the goals set by Act on Climate will be met by the target deadlines.

“We need a realistic plan. I don’t believe that we have that right now,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a way that we can get there in the time frame that we need, and we also do need to be focusing on mitigation.”

Both candidates said they support expanding offshore wind facilities and solar energy to help reduce carbon emissions.

When asked about forest loss related to solar development and whether he would support legislation that tries to protect forests and open space, McKee said, “We’re balancing those two issues in a way that we actually are going to achieve … all the goals that we want.

“We have to make sure that we’re on renewables, and at the same time protecting our environment.”

Kalus said she does not support “cutting down open land for additional solar farms” and wants to utilize brownfields and roofs for solar arrays. She suggested using tax breaks rather than negative reinforcement to incentivize those locations for solar development rather than forest or other open space.

Both also agreed that efforts to advance toxic plastic-burning legislation undermine efforts to protect environmental justice communities.

Election day is Nov. 8.

Colleen Cronin is a Report for America corps member who writes about environmental issues in rural Rhode Island for ecoRI News.


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  1. I do not believe Kalus as if she was honest she would know no republican can act this way and she would not actually do anything she said here wonder what she says to republicans on these topics. That would be much more useful

  2. When asked about forest loss related to solar development and whether he would support legislation that tries to protect forests and open space, McKee said, “We’re balancing those two issues in a way that we actually are going to achieve … all the goals that we want.”

    That, of course, depends on what your goals are, Governor. “Balancing” the issues sounds like you are willing to continue sacrificing forestland for renewable energy projects, AND big development projects (remember who was the big promoter of the Citizen’s Bank Center?) Then again, if your goals for forest protection are based on those espoused by the State Forest Action Plan, written by the Forest Service and DEM, it’s no wonder you think of forests as nothing more than future development projects. If RI expects to meet any CO2 emission standards, it can not continue ignoring the carbon storage capacity of trees.

  3. I’d like to believe Kalus’ new enthusiasm for the environment, but when asked about the elected official she most admired, it was DeSantis who is known as a climate denier and reportedly attacked science education dealing with climate. And I’m also concerned she sent out a mailer calling for suspension of the gas tax long after peak prices declined without any concern noted for the revenue loss that RIDOT depends on for maintenance and RIPTA for its operations. Sounds like she just panders for votes.
    As Rick says, McKee is slow to address the loss of woodlands for solar sprawl, and has been slow to address transportation too. For example the bicycle world has been disappointed by little progress on state bike paths and its being left out of the Green Bond, his denial of a request to publicize a new bike/pedestrian safety law, (the “Vulnerable Road Users” law) and failure to do much to implement the Bike Mobility Plan while prioritizing highway expansions. However, his administration seems finally poised to rebuild the long closed East Bay Bike Path bridges and they recently announced an e-bike promotion in addition to the subsidies for electric cars. And he can be expected to stand up against any anti-environment initiatives taken by Congress if the GOP regains control

  4. I wonder why McKee., who is so supportive of renewables isn’t pushing for solar on state buildings. The Warwick campus of CCRI, for example, seems like a good site for both solar and wind, but instead has lighting in the labs that’s designed to stay on 24/7 (and don’t get me started on the automatic toilets that waste water by randomly flushing 2 or 3 times with each use). And why aren’t there charging stations on all the campuses? That said, I don’t believe a word out of DeSantis lover, Kalus with regard to environmentalism.

  5. Kalis has no record to back up her environmental claims, however, the republican party does. If she differs on the republican agenda, she would be more believable running as an independent.

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