PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island’s General Assembly scored a “B-” on its environmental legislation for the 2011-2012 session, according to the Environment Council of Rhode Island’s biannual Green Report Card.
The council graded members of the R.I. Senate and House of Representatives on 14 environmental issues that came to vote, including topics ranging from clean water to state energy policies.
“The bills that are highlighted in this report card are priorities on which many ECRI members worked hard to ensure passage or defeat,” Tricia K. Jedele, president of ECRI, said in prepared remarks. “These pieces of legislation have a lot to do with determining the health of Rhode Island’s communities for future generations.”
The environmental group called the General Assembly “unfocused,” saying that while “significant pieces of legislation were passed early on” in renewable energy and conservation policy, lawmakers missed opportunities on the public transit front.
The council selected issues to rate based on votes with the greatest environmental impact and those that “served to best distinguish legislators’ voting records.” Rhode Island’s lawmakers were scored based on a complex system including both floor votes and bill sponsorships.
Of the State Senate rankings, Susan Sosnowski, of the 37th district, was the only member to receive an “A,” voting contrary to ECRI positions twice. In contrast, Frank Lombardo, 25th district, and Bethany L. Moura, 19th district, were the only members to receive an “F.”
Twelve House of Representative members earned top marks while eight came in at the bottom with “F” grades.
Highlights from the session, according the ECRI, included the Renewable Energy Fund, the Warwick Sewer Exemption, the Distributed Renewable Energy Standard Contract, the Legal Protection for Conservation Easements, and the Transit Investment and Debt Reduction Act, among others.
The ECRI said Rhode Island’s “many fiscal challenges” were a factor in the “hindrance of key environmental issues.” The report laid out the roles a healthy environment plays in a strong economy. “Environmental protection is the lynchpin to any robust and sustainable economy,” Jedele wrote in a letter to the governor.
The group also passed judgment on Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, saying he “remained steadfast in many commitments to the environment” and that the hard work of his staff and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management “deserves high praise.”
According to ECRI, after two years in office, Chafee has “proven to be an advocate for land and water conservation.” On a negative note, the group criticized Chafee’s lack of action regarding public transportation investments.
“The environmental community stands by the statements in this report, the priorities that are highlighted, as well as the system that was used to measure legislator performance,” Jedele said. “Lawmakers, take note.”
ECRI, a coalition of 60 organizations and individuals, listed six steps that it would like to see the next governor take, which included supporting the Environmental Protection Agency’s right to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, tackling transportation issues, and recognizing the “unprecedented challenges” presented by climate change and resource depletion.
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