Rhode Island is called to capitalize on a rich balance of economy and stewardship. In 1843, Article I, Section 17 of our constitution acknowledged our citizenry’s right to natural resources, empowering Rhode Islanders to “enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery and privileges to the shore.”
In 1986, a state constitutional convention broadened that clause to say our citizens “shall be secure in their rights to the use and enjoyment of the natural resources of the state with due regard for the preservation of their values.” In this way, our constitution builds a foundation for healthy and sustained economic growth.
Rhode Island’s greatest periods of prosperity came when we leveraged our natural assets. The Rhode Island Foundation just launched an initiative to grow the state’s economy around our strengths, fittingly themed “It’s All in Our Backyard.”
An entrepreneurial economy calls on forward-thinking people willing to take risks required to seize opportunities. We have the schools and incubators to produce and grow such talent. Leaders among us already have seeded powerful pieces of this re-emergence and now contemplate even greater transformation rooted deep in three infrastructure issues: energy, transportation and food.
Two and a half years ago our state put laws in place that bolstered our capacity to produce energy here at home, and we are now seeing their fruit, including a 3 megawatt solar farm built on a landfill in East Providence. A rekindled Office of Energy Resources is engaged in energy planning that supports growing these investments by illustrating their positive impacts on the security, sustainability and cost of our energy supply.
The Green and Healthy Homes Initiative has launched one of its most ambitious pilots here, proving the amazing value of comprehensive healthy home audits and investments for energy conservation, health, education and our economy.
We also have cultivated our own energy business sector, including companies including VCharge, VoltServer and eNow, with concepts that promise to improve energy performance at home and around the globe.
Our energy planning illustrates the huge opportunity in transportation; changing out our over-reliance on imported and unsustainable fuels to more robust transit, natural gas and locally sourced electricity. Project Get Ready already has made Rhode Island its first statewide success, building 50 charging stations to shepherd in the electrification of our vehicle fleet.
We can look at water transit on upper Narragansett Bay, not only as an effective means to move people but also as a way to revitalize the bay and our waterfronts and better connect our citizens.
It is time to seize the opportunities of domestic, resource-based, self-reliant productivity. The transformation requires public officials, investors and consumers that are ready to bear the initial but ultimately well-rewarded cost and sacrifices to bring healthy economics back home.
And as we return to a focus on our own productivity, we must also protect Rhode Island’s natural assets for future generations. Our constitution gives us all the right to use and enjoy our natural resources together with the responsibility to preserve their value. In the end, no economy can or will be sustained unless it is sustainable. •