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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Governor's race: Dems lay out plans for the environment, Republicans don't even show up

By ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The four Democratic candidates for governor laid out their plans on how they would 
prepare Rhode Island for climate change during a 90-minute forum April 24 hosted by the Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI) and ecoRI News and held in Brown University’s List Auditorium. Republican candidates Ken Block and Cranston Mayor Alan Fung declined to participate.

The forum opened with presentations by two climate change experts, John King, professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, and J. Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology at Brown. Their presentations outlined the scientific consensus regarding the rapid increase in carbon dioxide emissions and translated that data into expected local impacts, including sea-level rise, temperature increases, warming urban centers, loss of coastal habitats, increased frequency of extreme weather events, ocean acidification and the potential for species extinction at a level rarely recorded in Earth’s history.

With this background, each candidate was asked to answer two questions: “What role does the office of governor play in responding to the threats and capitalizing on the opportunities presented by climate change?” and “If you were the next governor of Rhode Island, what priority would you give to responding to those threats and opportunities?”

Each candidate — Todd Giroux, Clay Pell, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Mayor Angel Taveras — took a different perspective on the issue, but there was broad agreement that it’s necessary to invest in solutions now, and build a workforce, education system and planning process to avoid the worst impacts.


The Bristol contractor focused on the state’s need to develop a revolving loan fund to upgrade Rhode Island’s aging housing stock and make it more energy efficient. He also noted the need for more environmental activists to be out in the community to build the will to take needed action.


The political newcomer cited eight specific next steps he would take to address climate change: continue Gov. Lincoln’s Chafee’s Executive Climate Change Council; make use of the state’s beach and ocean Special Area Management Plans (SAMP); bolster the legal framework for funding renewable energy programs; make additional progress with the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation to address climate change in its economic development plans; support the Rhode Island Public Energy Partnership to make sure it finishes the tasks outlined; implement the State Energy Plan that has been under development; have the Office of Energy Resources establish an efficiency rating program for state buildings; and support passage of Chafee’s Clean Water and Open Space Bond, expected to be Question 4 on this November’s ballot.


The general treasurer emphasized her proposal to develop a Green Bank, which could provide public funds needed to leverage private investment in rebuilding state infrastructure. While she stated these funds wouldn’t be used to support the fossil-fuel industry, the question of state divestment was answered with a recap of how she has moved some state retirement funds into a sustainable investment portfolio. Her takeaway message was that addressing climate change can’t be a checklist, instead she believes that all state actions need to be viewed through the lens of climate change.


The mayor focused on the success of the city’s sustainability plan and that it proves he has the political will to implement his recently released seven-point environmental plan: achieve 40 percent renewables by 2030; ensure access to local, affordable food’ expand the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative; support local sustainability efforts; enact a comprehensive organic waste master plan; extend the life of the Central Landfill; and reduce the state’s carbon footprint.

“This event was an unparalleled success,” ECRI president and Clean Water Action director Jamie Rhodes said. “Rhode Island has not pulled together this focused of a discussion on climate change in past election years. This is a vital issue to be considered by all of the candidates for governor, and we missed the opportunity to hear how the two Republicans in this race may have other strategies to ensure the long-term health and stability of Rhode Island’s economy and environment.”

Frank Carini, co-founder and editor of ecoRI News, served as moderator.