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Reversing course, Senator Whitehouse now believes it is proper to involve himself in rule of law proceedings

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I have a very strong belief that when something is subject to a rule of law proceeding like a trial, in which you have lawyers and evidence and appeal to courts, that that’s not a really good place for political pressure to be brought to bear,” said Senator Whitehouse about why he wouldn’t involve himself in the fight against Invenergy’s proposed power plant.


While fighting against Invenergy‘s proposed $1B fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant, the people of Burrillville pleaded with United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island), a putative climate champion, to say something in support of their cause.

The Senator refused, dozens of times.

Speaking about his reasons for not publicly opposing the proposed power plant, Whitehouse said, “For what it’s worth, I have a very strong belief that when something is subject to a rule of law proceeding like a trial, in which you have lawyers and evidence and appeal to courts, that that’s not a really good place for political pressure to be brought to bear.”

Expanding on those comments at another event, Whitehouse said, “Lawyers and evidence and briefs and decision makers and an appeal to the Supreme Court is part of the kind of judicial work the State does. In the same way that it would be wrong for me to stand out – particularly when I’m arguing the rule of law all the time down in Washington – it would be wrong of me to stand out in front of a jury trial and say, ‘Find him guilty ‘ and ‘Lock her up’ and that kind of stuff.”

At another event, Whitehouse said, “I want to focus my efforts on where it will make the biggest difference… I still am of the view that, with the force and strength that I have available to me, I want to apply every bit of that force and strength to the battle in Washington, which if we win it, will be immensely significant, not just to Burrillville but to all of Rhode Island and to the country and the world.”


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This wasn’t always Whitehouse’s position on the proposed power plant. In the early days, Whitehouse fully supported the power plant and attempted to mislead the public by claiming the proposed power plant had the support of major environmental groups. This was not the case.

Now that the Rhode Island Energy Facilities Siting Board has rejected Invenergy’s application, Whitehouse has seemingly changed his position on the wrongness of interfering in “a rule of law proceeding like a trial, in which you have lawyers and evidence and appeal to courts.”

On Friday Whitehouse released a press release announcing a friend-of-the-court brief he filed with Senators Jack Reed (Democrat, Rhode Island) and Ed Markey (Democrat, Massachusetts) in Rhode Island v Shell Oil Products Company, “a case brought by the state of Rhode Island seeking to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for costs associated with climate change.”

The brief counters arguments made by the United States Chamber of Commerce in the case.

“The Chamber’s brief attempts to convince this Court of its sincere concerns about climate change in order to suggest that it has credible concerns on the narrow jurisdictional issue before this Court,” wrote the Senators. “However, before the U.S. Congress, the Chamber vigorously opposes any effective congressional effort. It should not be permitted to have it both ways, as the end result would be that no one has authority to address the climate catastrophe we are barreling towards.”

The three Senators are absolutely right in calling attention to the nefarious actions of the United States Chamber of Commerce, and strongly make their case, noting, “[t]he Chamber’s actions are not those of an organization in search of ‘serious solutions’ [to climate change]… They reflect a decades-long campaign of disinformation, obstruction, and political intimidation designed to prevent democratically accountable branches of government from adopting any policies that would reduce carbon pollution. This Court should assess the Chamber’s arguments accordingly.”

But where were our Senators when the residents of Burrillville were pleading with them to say a few words in support of their fight against the power plant? Why was Whitehouse, who claims to be a climate champion, hiding behind the idea that it would be improper for him to put his thumb on the scales of a quasi-judicial proceeding, when it is now obvious that he in reality has no such qualms?

I reached out to the Senator for clarification or comment. I received no reply.


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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade. atomicsteve@gmail.com