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Environment Council of Rhode Island announces their 2020 legislative priorities



“Perhaps most importantly, we face the climate crisis. We just experienced a couple of 65 degree days in January. Rhode Island has already experience more warming than any other of the 48 lower United States. We had the warmest decade on record,” said Kai Salem, a policy advocate at Green Energy Consumers Alliance and policy chair at ECRI. “And yet, no noteworthy environment, climate or energy bills have passed the General Assembly over the last two years. We need to take action in 2020.”

The Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI) held a “coffee hour” in the State House Library to meet with legislators and let them know about their legislative priorities for the 2020 session of the Rhode Island General Assembly. Many legislators attended the event, with both Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence) and House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick) addressing attendees. Also speaking were Barnaby Evans, founder of WaterFire, and Kim Anderson, owner of the vegan restaurant Plant City.

Below is all the video from the event and a copy of ECRI’s 2020 legislative priorities.

“In 2020 Rhode Island faces environmental crises that are more daunting than ever,” said Kai Salem, a policy advocate at Green Energy Consumers Alliance and policy chair at ECRI. “PFAS and other toxics are showing up in our water supply, our landfill continues to fill up, plastic pollution is everywhere. Perhaps most importantly, we face the climate crisis. We just experienced a couple of 65 degree days in January. Rhode Island has already experience more warming than any other of the 48 lower United States. We had the warmest decade on record. Farmers and fishers can attest to the weird weather patterns that are disrupting our traditional lifestyles and economies, and our 400 miles of coastline are threatened by rising sea levels.

“And yet, no noteworthy environment, climate or energy bills have passed the General Assembly over the last two years. We need to take action in 2020.

“Funding for environmental protection is on the decline. For these reasons the Environment Council of Rhode Island will be launching a Climate Crisis Campaign in 2020,” continued Salem. “We’ll also be here in the State House every day this session pushing for environmental policies and programs including enforceable carbon emissions targets, a green bond on the ballot in 2020, bills to reduce plastic pollution, and many more.”

“Climate change is real,” said Senate President Ruggerio. “There’s no doubt about it.”

“We all have our passions,” House Majority Leader Shekarchi. “I’m no exception to it. So your passion obviously is the environment and you need to continue that and find the legislators who support your position and help them in their campaign and help them educate fellow legislators because that’s how real change happens. Input is important.

“We are blessed here in Rhode Island with a great Department of Environmental Management. I know [Deputy Director for Environmental Protection] Terry Gray was recognized earlier, but I also want to… recognize… Director [Janet Coit]. They have a challenge every day, balancing a good economy in Rhode Island. We need jobs and development and protecting the environment – that’s not an easy job.

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“It’s because of their initiative that we have a plant in Johnston right now that does food waste to energy. We’re looking at one that does medical waste to energy and that’s all on the forefront of DEM,” continued Shekarchi. “So we’re not only talking about solar and wind, but we’re looking at all types of alternative energy. That’s very, very important and we need to continue to support those efforts.

“What I would urge you all to do is not only to come up here and be advocates, but to seek out good sound development in Rhode Island. Be it a solar project [or an] alternative energy wind project, be involved in it, support it, work with them. I can’t think of a developer in the state that I don’t represent, or know in my private practice, that would not welcome support from the environmental community in a development.

“Find out early, is this a project we can support? Is this a solar project that’s going to go on a landfill or a contaminated site and is the money going to be used to clean it up? Well, if that’s the case, work with them on that. If this is solar that’s going to cut down some diseased trees, work with them to reforest and replant trees on that site and somewhere else in the local community. It’s only by working together with the business community, with the developers – and trust me, they’re welcoming. If you’re fair and you’re reasonable and you work in a collaborative partnership, you will get things done. It’s just a known fact.

“Thank you for your advocacy,” concluded Shekarchi. “The environment is our single biggest resource. We need to protect it for generations to come.”

Barnaby Evans:

Kim Anderson:

Priscilla De La Cruz, the president of ECRI:

ECCRI’s 2020 Emerging Legislative Priorities

Energy and Climate

The Issue: The harmful impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, heat waves, extreme weather, and more, are devastating Rhode Island. Meanwhile, our state’s economy relies on out-of-state fossil fuels and outdated electric and gas distribution systems to supply our energy needs. If we are to stave off the worst impact of climate change, Rhode Island’s General Assembly must take immediate action on the climate crisis.

The Solutions:

  • Update the Resilient Rhode Island Act to make Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets consistent with current science and mandatory across state government.
  • Update appliance efficiency standards to save residents and businesses on their water, gas, and electricity bills while reducing water and energy waste.
  • Increase the Renewable Energy Standard to 100 percent by 2030. Let’s stop buying electricity from out-of-state fossil fuel sources and instead invest in local renewable sources, like solar and wind.
  • Oppose attempts to allow dirty pyrolysis (gasification) electricity generation. Allowing waste-to-gas electricity generation would create pollution while failing to solve Rhode Island’s waste problems.
  • Provide grants to cities and towns for climate resiliency through the Ocean State Climate Adaptation and Resilience (OSCAR) fund, generated from a 5 cents per barrel fee on petroleum imported by ship.
  • Update the Energy Facilities Siting Act to require adherence to the Resilient Rhode Island Act, include a public advocate, and consider environmental justice.

Funding and Investment

The Issue: For years, Rhode Island voters have overwhelmingly approved bonds to fund conservation efforts. Yet budgets are declining for Department of Environmental Management, the Coastal Resource Management Council, and other key environmental programs. For the sake of our public health and economy, our natural resources desperately need sustained, protected sources of funding.

The Solutions:

  • Put a Green Bond on the ballot that will fund protection of Rhode Island’s priority open spaces, working farms, forests and critical wildlife habitat; complete the state’s network of bike paths; and help communities improve their climate resiliency.
  • Prevent caps on energy efficiency programs. Don’t limit the investments made through Rhode Island’s cost-effective, nation-leading energy efficiency programs. These programs reduce carbon pollution, increase energy reliability, and save Rhode Islanders on their utility bills.
  • Ensure that the Department of Environmental Management and Coastal Resource Management Council are fully funded.


The Issue: Single-use plastics, like bags and take out containers, litter our neighborhoods, contaminate marine environments, and jam the gears at the state recycling facilities – among dozens of other issues. Several Rhode Island communities have passed ordinances banning plastic products, most notably plastic bags. It’s time to take up this issue statewide.

The Solutions:

  • Support bills that will ban single-use plastic bags, reduce plastic straw use, reduce balloon litter, and otherwise reduce the creation and flow of plastic.

Water and Toxics

The Issue: Rhode Islanders have a right to safe, affordable drinking water, clean rivers, and a healthy ocean. However, unregulated toxic chemicals threaten our water supply. Known toxic chemicals are also found in our homes, workplaces, and everyday products. The General Assembly must develop strong policy that will support infrastructure to protect our water supply and reduce toxics.

The Solutions

  • Set standards for PFAS in water. Require health-based regulatory standards for toxic PFAS forever chemicals in drinking water and groundwater.
  • Fill vacancies on the Water Resources Board and Rhode Island Rivers Council. Without qualified environmental leaders, these statutory bodies can’t do their job protecting our clean water.
  • Oppose rollbacks of water protections, like the cesspool phase-out law passed in 2015.
  • Ban PFAS in food packaging. PFAS are man-made chemicals that can lead to adverse human health effects, yet are found in many products, including 40 percent of takeout containers.
  • Require disclosure of ingredients in personal care products because Rhode Islanders have a right to know what potentially toxic substances are in the products we use in our homes.

Other Emerging Priorities

A myriad of other environmental issues affect Rhode Islanders every day. Strong policies and programs will protect our communities and natural resources long into the future.

  • Implement the regional Transportation and Climate Initiative to invest in clean, accessible, modern transportation options.
  • Protect bike and pedestrian safety. Biking and walking are the greenest, healthiest ways to get around, yet Rhode Islanders don’t have safe ways to move around our cities and towns.
  • Increase investment into climate literacy and environmental education to build strong, knowledgeable environmental leaders for generations to come.

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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.