Today the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture will discuss the re-appointment of three members to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC): Donald Gomez, Chair Jennifer Cervenka, and Vice Chair Raymond Coia. [The updated agenda shows that Jerry Sahagian and Joy Montanaro have been struck from discussion in today’s hearing. Sunrise Rhode Island continues to oppose the re-appointments of all five members.] The Council is supposed to advance “the preservation, protection, development and where possible the restoration of the coastal areas of the state” yet is most known for allowing National Grid’s methane gas liquefaction facility to move forward in the Port of Providence despite massive community opposition.
The Senate Committee has the power of advice-and-consent for these appointments from the Governor, which means they have the power to reject appointments. We call on each member of the Committee to follow the demands of the People’s Port Authority by rejecting these re-appointments and fighting to require significant representation from coastal Environmental Justice communities on the CRMC.
Gomez, Cervenka, Sahagian, Montanaro, and Coia are all unfit to continue serving on the CRMC. The approval of the Providence gas facility has revealed that all five ignore the communities they are supposed to serve, disregard democratic public engagement processes, and dismiss environmental and health issues, particularly ones that disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income communities.
Cervenka deserves special scrutiny due to her conflicts of interest and racist leadership. She was appointed as Chair of the CRMC by Governor Gina Raimondo in July 2017, part of replacing three environmentalists on the Council with pro-fossil fuel, industry insiders midway through the CRMC’s consideration of National Grid’s Providence gas liquefaction facility. Cervenka oversaw multiple hearings in which she behaved in hostile and aggressive ways towards BIPOC community members who gave public comment opposing the methane gas facility. She then led the Council’s approval of the facility despite overwhelming community opposition to placing another dangerous and polluting facility in South Providence, a majority BIPOC neighborhood already feeling the devastating effects of pollution.
This approval is unsurprising when considering her history as an environmental lawyer, defending oil and chemical companies against government regulation. It is surprising, however, that she would be considered for re-appointment given that five state representatives and 13 environmental and social justice groups in Rhode Island, including People’s Port Authority (formerly NoLNGinPVD) called for her resignation in 2017 on the grounds that the CRMC’s hearings on the gas facility “having been filled with bias, undisclosed conflicts of interest, and violations of free speech and due process.”
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Approving these re-appointments further affirms and excuses the undemocratic and racist process for approving the Fields Point methane gas liquefaction facility. Approving these re-appointments paves the way for future decisions that harm BIPOC communities across the state, undermining every Rhode Islander’s right to a healthy environment. Sunrise RI calls on all leaders and members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture (Senator Dawn Euer, Senator Alana DiMario, Senator Stephen Archambault, Senator Cynthia Coyne, Senator Meghan Kallman, Senator Joshua Miller, Senator Gordon Rogers, and Senator Bridget Valverde) to reject the re-appointments of Donald Gomez, Chair Jennifer Cervenka, Jerry Sahagian, Joy Montanaro, and Vice Chair Raymond Coia. We call on them to uphold the rules of the Committee to “adopt all means necessary and proper by law to protect the natural environment of the people of the state.” We call on them to uphold their responsibility to their constituents by rejecting these shameful re-appointments and work to protect the environment for all Rhode Islanders rather than line the pockets of National Grid and other corporate interests. We know that the people of Rhode Island, especially the people of South Providence and other environmental justice communities, deserve representation and equitable treatment.