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Sierra Club questions Providence City Councilmember Jo-Ann Ryan’s commitment to environmental justice



Providence City Councilmember Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5) joined former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino on his WLNE/Channel 6 show In the Arena Sunday morning where she talked about her plastic bag ban and the support her legislation received from the Rhode Island Chapter of Sierra Club. Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice Chair David Veliz responded with the following:

“The RI Chapter of Sierra Club would like to clarify some misleading information Providence City Councilor Jo-Ann Ryan made on real estate mogul Joe Paolino’s interview program this past Sunday morning. While it is correct to assert that the Chapter is in favor of taking measures to reduce single use plastic in all its forms, it was disingenuous to relate that to the councilor’s plastic bag reduction ordinance. Councilperson Ryan led a hasty and problematic process that ignored calls for further public input and considerations of more equitable ways to implement the reduction.

“The Chapter is withholding judgement on the current version of the ordinance until we hear from the City’s Racial and Environmental Justice Committee, who were regrettably bypassed during the original ordinance’s development. It was also very confusing that the ordinance was reintroduced while community meetings were still being held to rework it, and yet no action has been taken by the council to consider the new version or hold a public hearing.

“Furthermore, the councilperson’s commitment to environmental justice is hard to take seriously alongside her position in favor of selling the city’s water supply and having lawyers working for Invenergy, and advocating for the power plant in Burrillville, campaign on her behalf.

Ryan twice voiced her support for selling or leasing Providence’s Water Supply in an interview with WPRI/Channel 12’s Dan McGowan.

In answer to a question about stabilizing the pension system, Ryan said, “…we need to consider the sale or lease of the Providence Water Supply Board.”

When asked if she would support a sale or lease deal for the water system, Ryan replied, “I would be in favor of a sale or lease of the water system if and only if the following conditions are met: 1.) 100% of the proceeds from the sale are immediately deposited into the pension system. This way the state and all others can be assured that the approval of the sale will actually be utilized for shoring up the pension system and to ensure retirement security for our workers. 2.) 100% of the reduction to the city’s annual required contribution to the pension system, as a result of the increase in net proceeds from the sale, will be used to reduce tax rates across the board. 3.) We would need to insist upon appropriate controls to protect rate payers who are understandably concerned about sudden spikes in rates.”

Nicole Verdi, an attorney for prominent local law firm Adler, Pollock and Sheehan, is the lawyer Veliz is refers to as working for Invenergy. She has been working on Invenergy’s Burrillville project for years. She can be seen here in this Facebook photo helping to campaign for Ryan. Verdi has also been supporting Cyd McKenna for Providence City Council Ward 13.

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Jo-Ann Ryan is facing a primary challenge from Steven Cianci and Aaron Jaehnig. Jaehnig chairs the executive committee of the Sierra Club.

Reached for comment, Jaehnig said, “I thought it was odd for them to bring the Sierra Club into their conversation considering our very public criticism of the way the process was handled and community concerns ignored. But, that’s why I’m running. The city deserves a council that is willing to engage with, uplift and respond to, the most impacted members our the community and that has not been my experience advocating to my current councilperson.”


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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.