Gubernatorial Candidates Talk Environmental Goals

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Video by AYLA FOX/Shed Light Productions

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The top candidates for Rhode Island governor delivered their platforms on key environmental issues facing Rhode Island, such as climate change, renewable energy, and the proposed Burrillville power plant, on Oct. 21 during a Audubon Society of Rhode Island event at the Squantum Association’s waterfront club.

Allan Fung (Republican)
The 10-year mayor of Cranston served during one of the state’s biggest floods, in 2010. Although Fung didn’t champion or oppose efforts by the city to buyout and tear down flood-prone homes along the Pawtuxet and Pocasset rivers, Fung held out the effort as one of his environmental achievements.

On renewable energy, Fund said he wants the state to offer benchmarks but not mandates for building solar-energy projects. He championed two of the state’s largest solar facilities under development on former farmland in Cranston.

Fung is less enthusiastic about the state’s burgeoning offshore wind industry, saying he sides with fishermen and their concern about losing prime fishing grounds for catch such as squid.

As for climate change, Fung blamed flooding on unchecked development. He supports smart-growth development, where housing, workspace, and retailers are clustered together to advance multi-mode transportation and reduce traffic congestion.

Fung said his top environment issue is lead in water. He also supports protecting open space. He said the process for siting the proposed Burrillvile power plant is backwards. Residents should have more input as to how and where power plants are built, Fung said.

Joseph Trillo (Independent)
A former charter-boat captain and small-business owner, Trillo wants a cleaner Narragansett Bay. He supported rules that reduced sewage discharge from boats. And he wants to reduce the warm-water discharge from power plants that flush into upper Narragansett Bay.

The former Republican member of the state House of Representatives said he prefers federal laws to address climate change.

“We can’t stop the effects of global warming just by passing laws in Rhode Island,” Trillo said.

The $1 billion natural-gas/diesel-fired power plant in Burrillvile shouldn’t be built if there are viable alternatives, he said.

Trillo opposes National Grid’s natural gas liquefaction facility planned for the Providence waterfront.

“If it’s going to stress a community, it should not go forward,” Trillo said. “I think we have enough alternatives other than forcing stuff into the neighborhoods.”

Trillo is enthusiastic about offshore wind energy but said large solar arrays shouldn’t be built if they remove a lot of trees.

Gov. Gina Raimondo (Democrat)
Raimondo referred to several environmental and renewable-energy initiatives she endorsed during her four years as governor. She championed Rhode Island as “the birthplace of the offshore wind industry” and pledged to continue helping companies such as Deepwater Wind expand their operations in the state.

Raimondo received the only applause of the afternoon by stating her support for having Rhode Island comply with the Paris Agreement.

She touted her accomplishment of hiring a climate-change resiliency officer.

Raimondo reiterated her neutral “trust-the-process” stance on the proposed Burrillville power plant, but said she hoped that the Energy Facilities Siting Board would consider the massive influx of offshore wind farm proposals as it decides whether the power plant’s electricity is needed in the years ahead.

She steered clear of taking a stance on LNG facility proposed for the Providence waterfront, saying the facility is a federal, not state, decision.

Raimondo opposed privatizing the Providence drinking water supply. She pointed to her goals of adding renewable energy to the electric grid and increasing incentives for building solar arrays on brownfields.

Raimondo noted that she stopped a bill in the General Assembly this year that would have allowed the construction of a wood-burning biomass power facility.