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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Rhode Island enviros gear up

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff. Videos available in the original article.

Related imageA feel-good event meant to galvanize environmentalists and the General Assembly had a few unwelcome side issues.

One of the guest speakers, House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, mentioned his support for a medical waste-to-energy facility, an operation aggressively opposed in the past by environmentalists and the Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI), the host of the Jan. 15 legislative coffee hour held at the Statehouse.

The advocacy group comprised of environmentalists and more than 60 local organizations has unified against past waste-incinerator proposals, or, in this case, use of a process called pyrolysis or gasification to convert plastics and other material into a burnable fuel.

The chemical procedure is often lumped in with waste incinerators because of the release of toxic emissions and greenhouse gases. In 2019, bills seeking to legalize pyrolysis died in committee. ECRI and other groups held a rally outside the Statehouse in 2018 to fight a bill that tried, and failed, to legalize biomass incineration.

There are few details known about the latest proposal, expect that the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is reportedly reviewing permit requests for a pyrolysis facility in Johnston. ECRI and other environmental groups only recently learned about the proposal and are expected to oppose it.

The emcee of the coffee hour, Kai Salem, policy coordinator for the Green Energy Consumers Alliance, noted that the General Assembly hasn’t passed significant environmental legislation during the past two years.

“We need to take action in 2020,” Salem said.

In February, ECRI plans to launch a climate crisis campaign, Act on Climate, that brings together several organizations to convince the General Assembly to act on climate-related bills that have languished in committees for several years.

This legislation includes making greenhouse-gas reduction goals enforceable, as most other New England states have done. 

Missing, however, from ECRI’s list of priority legislation is a carbon-fee program. ECRI, instead, will support a similar plan called the Transportation & Climate Initiative, the regional fee on wholesale gasoline and diesel sales that would fund cleaner modes of transportation.

Other bills ECRI plans to endorse include improvements to energy-efficiency programs and energy-efficiency standards for appliances. ECRI will also support a statewide bag ban and restrictions on other single-use plastics, such as straws and balloons.

In the budget, ECRI will advocate for the $65 million green economy bond, and maintaining funding for DEM and the Coastal Resources Management Council.

Standards for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) will once again be backed by ECRI and local health groups.

Guest speakers at the event referred to the urgency to tackle the climate crisis.

Kim Anderson, owner of the new plant-based restaurant Plant City, described her investment-based approach to mitigating the climate crisis. Her private financing supports wind and solar projects, but also food.

She spoke of the harmful health and environmental impacts of animal agriculture and how a plant-based diet reduces climate emissions. Global greenhouse gases from animal agriculture is greater than global transportation emissions, she noted.

“We can all make a decision three times a day to eat whole foods and plant-based and move away from animal agriculture,” Anderson said. “It is the one thing that we can all make a difference on right away.”

Anderson also made a pitch for statewide composting, noting the her restaurant has diverted 90 tons of organics from the landfill in seven months, or about 1,000 pounds daily.

Local artist and WaterFire creator Barnaby Evans explained how Providence can learn from the success of the hurricane barrier to guard against sea-level rise and flooding. But he said this and other solutions can only happen if three things are addressed.

“The problem here is leadership, motivation, and an understanding that these solutions can be resolved,” Evans said.