PROVIDENCE — Just two years ago, the Environment Council of Rhode Island gave the General Assembly an “incomplete” on its “Green Report Card” because of the state legislature’s lackluster action on environmental measures.
But now the Environment Council is giving the Assembly good grades, declaring this “the best two years of environmental policymaking in Rhode Island history.”
For example, in 2021 the Assembly passed the “Act on Climate” bill, which makes the state’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions mandatory and enforceable.
And in 2022, the Assembly passed legislation requiring that 100 percent of electricity sold in the state must come from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2033 — sooner than any other state in the country.
“ECRI is pleased to report that the 2021-2022 sessions were banner years for environmental action,” the group said. “They set a new standard for what is possible, and they give Rhode Islanders hope that we are moving in the right direction for the environment.”
Peter Trafton, the council’s representative from the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, noted that in 2019 then-House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello took part a Globe Rhode Island forum, saying, “There is nothing Rhode Island can do to address climate change in a way that is real or impactful. That has to be done at the national level and an international level.”
“What a difference a term made!” Trafton said. Mattiello, a Cranston Democrat, lost his House seat in the 2020 elections, and new House Speaker K. Joseph Skekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, backed the Act on Climate.
Trafton said the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and national groups such as the Citizens Climate Lobby increasingly recognize that states and local communities must participate in addressing climate change.
“Rhode Islanders must work to preserve our own small part of the world for all our children and grandchildren,” he said. “This is not a ‘fix it and forget it,’ but a portfolio of important tasks to continue for decades to come.”
Priscilla De La Cruz, president of the Environment Council and senior director of governments affairs at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, said, “After the legislature passed the landmark 2021 Act on Climate establishing a critical and binding foundation for the state to reduce carbon emissions economy-wide, this year’s session set the standard for the type of climate action needed.”
Mal Skowron, an Environment Council member and transportation program and policy coordinator at Green Energy Consumers Alliance, said the Assembly made Rhode Islander a leader with the fastest transition to 100 percent renewable electricity in the nation. “Now, we need to build on this climate action to address the lack of policies to reduce emissions from transportation, plus eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels to heat and cool our buildings,” she said.
The Green Report Card recognized other key actions on environmental matters, including passing regulations for toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” in drinking water and food packaging, and halting a bill that would have cleared the way for “advanced recycling” plants that use the high-heat process known as pyrolysis to turn plastic into fuel.
Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio received both bouquets and brickbats.
The report card described Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, as “a champion,” noting that he sponsored the 100-percent renewable electricity bill and the Plastic Waste Reduction Act, which banned retail checkout plastic bags.
But the report also said, “President Ruggerio’s record of environmental accomplishments had a blemish: the Senate, with his vote, passed the ‘advanced recycling’ act intended to exempt polluting plastic burning facilities from environmental regulation.”
The report noted that some environmental measures failed to become law.
For example, the Senate passed a bill, introduced by Senator Dawn Euer, that would create “environmental justice focus areas” where permitting decisions would have to take into account the cumulative impact of pollution in certain neighborhoods. Representative Karen Alzate introduced a House version, but that bill died in committee.
The Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey and Representative David Morales, aimed to establish a replacement program for lead water service lines and require disclosure of lead pipes to tenants and buyers. But while it passed in the Senate, the bill was killed by the House Finance Committee.
Besides cataloguing wins and losses on environmental bills, the Green Report Card ranked legislators based on an evaluation of their records on the environment, taking into account bill sponsorship, leadership, voting records, and other factors that go beyond floor and committee votes.
The members of the Senate with the top five overall combined scores were:
- Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee Chair Dawn Euer, Newport Democrat: 61
- Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Joshua Miller, Cranston Democrat: 59
- Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, North Providence Democrat: 59
- Senate Commerce Committee Chair V. Susan Sosnowski, a South Kingstown Democrat: 57
- Senator Alana DiMario, a Narragansett Democrat: 56
- Senator Bridget Valverde, an East Greenwich Democrat: 56
The senator with the worst score was Senator Elaine J. Morgan, a Hopkinton Republican: minus-14.
The members of the House of Representatives with the top five overall scores were:
- Representative Terri Cortvriend, a Portsmouth Democrat: 61
- Representative June S. Speakman, a Warren Democrat: 53
- Representative Lauren Carson, a Newport Democrat: 50
- Representative Deborah L. Ruggiero, a Jamestown Democrat (running for lieutenant governor): 44
- House Small Business Committee Chair Carol Hagan McEntee, a South Kingstown Democrat: 43
- Representative Brandon C. Potter, a Cranston Democrat: 43
The House member with the worst score was Representative Patricia L. Morgan, a West Warwick Republican: minus-14.