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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Climate Jobs RI

Union and environmental leaders commit net-zero emission economy by 2050

By  Steve Ahlquist 

The Rhode Island AFL-CIO, along with allies in the labor movement, the environmental movement, and elected officials, launched a campaign announcing a new initiative to transition Rhode Island towards a net-zero emission economy by the year 2050. The initiative is not just about environmental and climate change concerns – it’s also about economic recovery post-covid.

The campaign was announced via a zoom meeting with reporters.

“Historically Rhode Island is last out of recessions, and I think this time we need a more creative and bolder plan,” said State Senator Dawn Euer (Democrat, District 13, Newport, Jamestown). “This initiative for economic recovery is really founded in Green New Deal principles.”

The initiative, called Climate Jobs Rhode Island, will be co-chaired by Priscilla De La Cruz, the Rhode Island Director of Green Energy Consumers Alliance, and Patrick Crowley, Secretary-Treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO. De La Cruz also serves as the President of ECRI, the Environment Council of Rhode Island. The coalition is committed to working together to make Rhode Island a national leader in the development of a 21st Century economy grounded in the principles of economic, environmental, racial and social justice.

The Coalition has stated goals, according to their website:

1. Institutionalize the concept of a Just Transition within all governmental agencies of the State of Rhode Island with a legislative mandate requiring the inclusion of the voices of stakeholders in the labor movement, the environmental movement, the racial justice movement, along with voices of private industry, to ensure adequate progress towards reaching the goals stated in the Act on Climate, mindful of the shared principles above.

2. Identify and remove any unnecessary and counterproductive administrative and/or legislative barriers prohibiting or restricting the smooth flow of public financing available for infrastructure projects that will create resilient communities and enhance the goal of establishing a Rhode Island economy with 100% net-zero emissions by 2050, with significant, measurable progress in the years before 2030.

3. Retrofit all Rhode Island public schools to reach 100% net-zero emissions by 2050, with significant, measurable progress in the years before 2030.

4. Retrofit all public buildings and buildings supported by public spending with clean energy heating systems to reach 100% net-zero emissions by 2050, with significant, measurable progress in the years before 2030.

5. The healthcare sector (e.g., group homes, nursing homes, non-profit hospitals) should also be required to immediately begin reducing fossil fuel-based energy consumption by transitioning to renewable energy sources.

6. Install solar-energy systems on every appropriate publicly owned building, including municipal and K-12 school buildings and public higher education buildings, by 2050, with significant, measurable progress in the years before 2030.

7. Expand the services of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authorityeliminate all customer fares, and establish a comprehensive transportation and mobility network. We call for implementing a plan to transition RIPTA’s fleet to a zero-net emission system and expanding electric vehicle charging infrastructure. [italics mine]

8. Rhode Island should immediately begin work to achieve the goals in the Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) by the Division of Statewide Planning and the Governor’s Clean Transportation and Mobility Innovation Working Group.

9. Continue to support the environmentally-sound expansion of the off-shore wind industry and the solar-power industry making Rhode Island the nation’s hub for wind and solar energy development and manufacturing by creating and/or updating industry-based incentive structures.

10. Rhode Island should immediately begin work to achieve the recommendations in the report The Road to 100% Renewable Electricity by 2030 by the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources including a 100% Renewable Energy Standard and the extension of the energy efficiency statute. 

11. Incorporate clean, renewable energy and environmental awareness education programs in every public school in Rhode Island, developing a pipeline of talented workers at every level of work, including the next generation of professional and technical workers, to help meet Rhode Island’s Green Economy goals.

12. Increase support for registered apprenticeship training systems that create family-sustaining career opportunities for low-income community members and people of color in existing and Green Economy industries.

We need a shared and sustained commitment to funding our future. Therefore, we call for:

  • The preparation of a report detailing the project costs for transitioning Rhode Island to a Green Economy, including the cost of inaction, and; 
  • The passage of the climate change and environmental protection bond on the March 2, 2021 ballot and for similar measures to be placed before the voters during the 2022 and 2024 election cycles, and;
  • The streamlining and increased transparency of bond funded projects and for a sustainable source of funding for a transition to the Green Economy beyond the funding provided through bond measures to meet the goals expressed in this website.

UpriseRI asked about the no-fare RIPTA plan.

The no-fare RIPTA idea will “hopefully be part of the budget,” said Secretary-Treasurer Crowley. “One way or another we need to make sure that we make RIPTA free. It’s good for the riders who currently use it. It’s good for the future riders that we hope to attract to the service. 

But first and foremost, it’s good or the environment and making sure that we reduce our reliance on fossil fuel transportation in this state. So for all those reasons we’re looking forward to having a bill or a budget amendment – however we get it done. One of the great things about the group of folks represented on this call is we tend to find ways to get it done, one way or the other.”

“The Rhode Island AFL-CIO is proud to stand with our friends and allies in the Rhode Island Building Trades and the Environmental movement as we work together to build a green economy in Rhode Island,” stated George Nee, President of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO. 

“The labor movement believes working people don’t just need a seat at the table, but many seats, speaking for all of those fighting for a more just Rhode Island. The fight against exploitation, injustice, and racism can only be won when workers have more power. We are proud to add the voices of our 80,000 members in Rhode Island to this effort.”

“Shared efforts toward a just, clean energy transition and a socially & racially equitable Rhode Island will create opportunities in frontline communities, address the climate crisis, and economic recovery from the pandemic,” stated Priscilla De La Cruz, Rhode Island Director of Green Energy Consumers Alliance. 

“We know how to get there. We must reduce emissions, secure our path to 100% renewable electricity with offshore wind, save more energy, and invest in clean public transportation and charging infrastructure. Rhode Island transitioning to a green economy is an opportunity, not a cost burden but an investment in quality jobs, lives, and the spaces we call home.”

“We can create thousands of good paying jobs in Rhode Island by transitioning to a green and resilient economy,” said Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner

“My office has delivered millions of dollars through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank to help municipalities and businesses build out renewable energy projects and become more climate resilient, and I’m pleased to join in announcing today’s joint initiative to create new green jobs for Rhode Islanders.”

Michael Sabitoni, President of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, said, “The Building Trades are committed to transitioning Rhode Island to a green economy, but we must do it in a way that protects workers that are currently feeding their families with jobs in the energy industry. A green energy transition that puts hard working tradesmen and women out of work waiting for good paying, family sustaining green jobs to materialize is not a just transition; it’s an unjust transition.”

State Senator Dawn Euer, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture, stated, “As our country reels from the negative health and economic impacts of the pandemic, it is imperative that Rhode Island puts forward a bold vision to rebuild our state, invest in our future, and put people back to work. Rhode Island is the home of the nation’s first domestic offshore wind farm and we are a leader in energy efficiency programs. Let’s recognize those strengths and focus on opportunities in the green economy that will allow us to create a sustainable, just future we deserve and know is possible.”

Representative David Bennett (Democrat, District 20, Warwick), who chairs the House Environmental Committee, wanted to show everyone “what we do this for… See this little boy? He’ll be 30 years old when we’re completed. We owe it to him and we owe it to his kids to make this environment cleaner, friendlier and livable.” 

“Climate change is among the greatest threats that we face as a community, both in Rhode Island and nationally,” said State Senator Meghan Kallman (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket), a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture. 

“We urgently need an ambitious plan to tackle it—a plan that is built on economic and environmental justice. I am so proud to stand alongside members of the labor and environmental communities to flesh out a robust approach to reducing emissions, providing good jobs at family-sustaining wages, and working towards adaptation in our state. There’s no time to waste!”

“The time to act on climate change is now,” said Sheila Dormody, Rhode Island Director of Climate and Cities Programs for The Nature Conservancy. “Working together as environmental and labor leaders, we can create the just transition to the robust and equitable economy that all Rhode Islanders deserve. Voting yes on the 2021 Beach, Clean Water and Green Bond is a critical step to make sure future generations of Rhode Islanders can enjoy our forests, clean drinking water and a healthier environment.”

At the press conference, coalition members delivered a presentation outlining the details of their proposal to establish a Just Transition to a Green Economy in Rhode Island. The coalition’s core principles include:

  • Establishing science-based mandatory and enforceable emissions limits leading to economy-wide 100% net-zero emissions by 2050, with significant, measurable progress before 2030.
  • Establishing state-wide, cost-effective investment in community resiliency (e.g., protecting wastewater treatment plants from rising sea levels) to protect against the effects of climate change and equitably share costs, benefits, and risks.
  • Maximizing family sustaining job growth through the creation and maintenance of good, well-paying union jobs and apprenticeship programs, and creating defined career pathways for current workers in the fuel industry.
  • Prioritizing solutions developed by underserved communities overburdened by pollution and following the lead of front-line communities (e.g. low-income communities, senior Rhode Islanders, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) disproportionately affected by environmental injustice in the transition to a Green Economy.

Coalition members include:

  • The Rhode Island AFL-CIO
  • The Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Green Energy Consumers Alliance
  • The Audubon Society of Rhode Island
  • SEIU District 1199NE
  • The Acadia Center
  • Clean Water Action
  • Rhode Island Environmental Education Association
  • General Treasurer Seth Magaziner
  • State Senator Dawn Euer, Chairperson, Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture
  • State Senator Meghan Kallman, Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture
  • State Representative David Bennett  (Democrat, District 20, Warwick), Chairperson, House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources

To learn more about the coalition, visit

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.

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