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Monday, April 12, 2021

Filippi doesn’t know how government works

Or if he does, he’s offering up a twisted point of view

By Will Collette

Rep. Blake “Flip” Filippi represents Charlestown, Block Island and parts of Westerly and South Kingstown. It’s been a matter of dispute since he first emerged on the political stage whether he actually lives in any of those four towns, but that’s a subject for another day.

The Rhode Island General Assembly just passed and Governor McKee signed the landmark “Act on Climate” bill that actually requires the state to take its goals to fight the causes and impacts of climate change seriously. The four towns Flip represents are perhaps the four most vulnerable to climate-driven sea level rise, severe storms and changes to fish habitats in the state.

But for reasons he does not actually explain, Flip has been adamantly opposed to actually doing something real to prevent the threats to our economy, homes and lives from the changing climate.

When the bill passed and McKee signed it, Flip put out an extraordinary statement (above, left) conjuring up the specter of empowered “unaccountable bureaucrats” who will impose terrible costs on small businesses, municipalities and low income Rhode Islanders (as if he has ever expressed any concern about them in the past.

According to e-mails put out by the state Trumplican Party, this bill will force you to give up your home heating furnace, your car, maybe your whole house. It will make the tragic loss of incandescent light bulbs pale by comparison.

And it will be done to you by nameless, faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats. They will come in the middle of the night to seize your propane grill.

This is all total crap, of course, showing that Flip is either ignorant about how government and law works, or is just deliberately lying. You pick.

Filippi yelling about something (Steve Ahlquist)
Let’s start with this bureaucrat thing. If Blake Filippi ever does come up with a worthy idea that gets legislated into law – something that hasn’t happened in his six years in office – it would be those nameless, faceless bureaucrats that would actually carry it out.

Every public employee is accountable to a chain of command. They do not get to scheme up evil things to do to the citizens with impunity. Flip is insulting each of them by implying that they do.

Scarcely a week goes by without some public employee - civil service or political - getting excoriated in the media for doing something that causes complaint. Hardly a month goes by without someone who messed up getting fired or resigning under pressure.

I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what some anonymous public employee might do. That time is better spent worrying about what arrogant or corrupt elected officials might do.

As for the changes to our lives that might come from this legislation and more generally from collective efforts to fight climate change, let’s reflect on the purpose of government.

The Preamble to the US Constitution demands that government “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

That mandate led to many changes just in my own 71 years on this planet. When I was growing up in Pawtucket, we had a backyard incinerator to burn trash. The textile mills along the Blackstone River dumped anything they wanted into said river.

We were just figuring out how to run mass vaccination programs to stop smallpox and polio and debating over whether vaccination should be mandatory. We had cars putting out black exhaust from leaded gas while riders were free from seat belts and airbags.

I got my smallpox and polio vaccinations and didn’t catch either disease but did suffer through all of the “routine” childhood diseases – measles, rubella, mumps, whooping cough, etc. – things that should no long plague any child except those with anti-vaxxer parents.

That backyard incinerator is gone, as are the textile mill toxics (along with the mills themselves, though that’s another story). The Blackstone is now clean and a National Park.

Cars have changed. Appliances have changed. Just about everything mechanical or electronic has changed as science and technology advances. Homes have changed – most people think about energy savings and efficiency not because some pointy headed bureaucrat told them to, but because it’s in their self-interest.

Filippi and the Trumplicans are trying to get you worked up about your oil furnace as if the bill signing means you must “CALL YOUR HEATING OIL COMPANY TO SAY GOODBYE,” as the RI Trumplican Party March 29 e-mail heading screamed.

Frankly, I wish I could do that. Though I like our oil dealer, I have no love of oil. After Cathy and I returned to Rhode Island and set up our home in Charlestown, our oil furnace broke. Natural gas, which we had in DC, was not an option, though propane was.

I journeyed up to the Veissman heating showroom at their Warwick headquarters to try to learn more about high-efficiency heating and ultimately ended up buying their furnace. It’s a good furnace, for oil, but it’s still oil. According to the technicians during their annual check-ups, it runs at “top efficiency” for oil, which is around 88-89%.

Given the high price of oil, not to mention our interest of cutting our carbon footprint, we took advantage of the now defunct Solarize Charlestown program to get solar panels installed on our roof. It cut our electric bills by more than half and we generally get a monthly check from National Grid for the excess electricity our panels generate. On Friday, we got our monthly check for $52.87.

We used RISE to get a free energy audit that spotted further ways we could save energy and money from simple and inexpensive improvements, such as adding insulation in key areas or changing a vent.

We would add a residential-sized wind turbine if Charlestown allowed it – which it doesn’t.

My point is that like so many other changes, we may chafe at the initial investment or early inconvenience, but the odds are we will like the results or at minimum get used to them.

In every aspect of life, bureaucrats work to implement decisions our elected officials make to “promote the general welfare.” Whether we like them or not, we adjust.

I quit smoking in 1990 largely because smoking restrictions were getting on my nerves. It was the best personal health decision I ever made, not to mention a welcome change to family and friends who had endured my smoke.

We all have our opinions about the changes we have had to make to cope with the pandemic. If we had adhered to the restrictions earlier and more strictly, we might have saved half a million lives.

Finally, Flip’s display of ignorance about the Act on Climate law completely neglects to note that we do not make such serious changes without support and community effort. From Congress to the State House to Town Hall, we should expect to see support for changes to our carbon footprint come in many forms, ranging from subsidies to tax credits.

On that subject, while Charlestown is still in the budget process, why not add a property tax INCENTIVE to encourage more Charlestown property owners to invest in energy efficiency? That’s one way to help keep Quonnie from drowning.

Most of Charlestown's high priced property threatened by climate-driven sea level rise and storms