Nature’s Trust begins legal action to compel Rhode Island to take action on climate change

Nature’s Trust Rhode Island, a youth-driven campaign for the legal right to a healthy climate, joined by Sisters of Mercy Ecology, today initiated legal action to compel the State of Rhode Island to “step up and do its fair share to stop climate change before it is too late.”

Today’s action, a petition to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), starts a 30-day clock. During that time, DEM will either initiate a public process to consider and implement this proposal, or the department will have to justify its inaction to the courts.

The petition delivered to DEM shows that state agencies have not lived up to their obligations according to the Rhode Island Constitution. This neglect of duty has been on display in the agency’s role in issuing permits for major fossil fuel projects, such as the expansion of the compressor station in Burrillville, Rhode Island, and the expansion of the LNG facility in Fields Point, Providence.

The petition and the regulations it asks DEM to put in place are based on the best available science, says Peter Nightingale, president of the board of Nature’s Trust Rhode Island and a University of Rhode Island physics professor. The petition also relies on duties contained in the state’s constitution to protect the public trust, including the duty to protect “the air, land, water, plant, animal, mineral and other natural resources of the state.”

Environmental justice is another core principle, one that is clearly violated by the proposed expansion of the LNG facility at Fields Point.

“Much of what climate scientists have predicted for the last 50 years is already happening,” writes Nightingale, “but actual developments have outpaced projections. In the presence of current reverse action at the federal level, it is clear that each state must act promptly and boldly to eliminate fossil fuel emissions and draw down those already wreaking havoc with our global weather system.”

Below is the video, including the part where building management attempted to shut down the event.

“It destroys lives, happiness and resources which I and everyone else so badly need,” said Chloe, a 16-year old petitioner and student at the Met High School in Providence. “I care about this because this is my life. This is the life of my future children, and I will not stand for them living in fear and uncertainty as many people live.”

“Some of my favorite things in the entire world are threatened by human development, climate change, more severe storms, and extreme weather, threatening human health, wildlife, and plants,” said Alex, a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island. “I will not take this destruction sitting down.”

“If we don’t reduce carbon pollution, sea levels will rise and our beaches will soon be underwater,” wrote Carmen, a 13-year old Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence. “Carbon pollution also dissolves into the ocean and kills marine life. The government is not taking the problem seriously enough!”

“If the state of Rhode Island does not do more to mitigate the impact of this activity through laws and regulations supported by research and community outreach, it will be neglecting its duty to protect the public good in the interest of its citizens,” wrote Catherine, a University of Rhode Island alum who is keenly aware of the responsibility of the Rhode Island government.

“Climate change is going to mean a lot to our state,” said Philip, 14, who lives in East Providence. “The Ocean State will mean that we are literally under water. The name Rhode Island will mean a bunch of islands. I love Goosewing Beach in Little Compton and Colt State Park in Bristol; if we don’t act now, they’ll be islands. We’ll to have to build a lot of bridges just to get around. I don’t want that to be my future.”

Chip, a graduate student in physics at the University of Rhode Island said about his reason to join the legal action was “to aid in the fight against climate change deniers and engage in environmental policy. There is clear evidence that human action has caused an acceleration in climate change and we must do everything we can to stop our deterioration of the planet.”

We are here to tell you that this beautiful planet we live on belongs to us too,” said Jeremy, 11. “We children of Rhode Island and me specific of Providence demand that you stop polluting it. If you continue to destroy our planet we will have nothing. We will not simply stay quiet and play our video games all day. We will stand up; I will stand up. In my school we are learning about revolution and revolts. We learned about the Haitian revolution. I feel in my heart that climate justice is our revolution.

“Hear me now. We will revolt, take back our planet, and win.”

“We must realize our mistakes before the window of opportunity is permanently closed,” wrote Neelam, a freshman at the University of Rhode Island. “We are presently in the middle of our sixth mass extinction and have little room for more mistakes.”

With the help of Victoria and Jeremy, Nighingale sent an email to Rhode Island state government officials letting them know about the petition and potential lawsuit.

Nightingale delivered some of the science and law upon which the legal action is based.

During Nightingale’s address to the crowd, management and security from the privately owned building where DEM keeps their offices attempted to shut down the event. At the two minute mark below, the private company that owns the building told those assembled that they were not allowed inside the building.

Note that this was a group of people peacefully petitioning their government, a protected First Amendment right. But because the offices are on private property, the group was told to leave. At no point was anyone barred from passing through the hallway or otherwise obstructed.

When it was suggested that the event be moved inside the DEM offices, DEM locked the doors. (2m40s mark in the video below).

Nightingale completed his brief remarks, despite constant interruption.

“Just as a side note, this is the problem with privatizing of the commons,” I said. “Where a private corporation can kick you out when you’re trying to petition the government.”

“I understand,” said the building manager.

“Well, I don’t know if you do,” I replied.


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