Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) is facing intense scrutiny over the reappointment of several board members.
Before and during a Statehouse hearing on June 6, the environmental advocacy group No LNG in PVD protested the coastal regulatory board for granting approval for a natural gas liquefaction facility on the city’s industrial waterfront. The group also contested Gov. Gina Raimondo's legal authority to reappoint three members.
Save The Bay also objected to the current number of CRMC members selected by the governor. The environmental education and advocacy group filed a lawsuit in April seeking clarification on the number and qualifications of those appointments.
The recent Senate hearing drew significant attention because the reappointments are happening one day before a new bill receives a hearing that increases the number of CRMC members the governor can appoint.
Many protesters cried foul during the reappointment hearing.
“Doesn't it seem to you there is something a little fishy going on,” said No LNG in PVD protester Shannon Donahue during her testimony before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture.
The hearing was postponed a week so that Raimondo’s office could confirm she had the authority to reappoint the three CRMC members.
At the start of the June 6 hearing, chairwoman Susan Sosnowski, D-Charlestown, read a statement from the governor’s office saying the reappointments are legal.
“They all indisputably meet the requirements of Rhode Island general laws,” said Sosnowski, reading from a letter by Claire Richards, the governor's chief legal counsel.
During testimony, Topher Hamblett of Save The Bay said the governor is attempting to appoint eight members when she can only appoint seven. He noted that the the members seeking reappointment, Donald Gomez, Michael Hudner and Patricia Reynolds, were given municipal appointments soon after Save The Bay took legal action.
“Retroactively securing elected or appointed roles for existing members of the council will bring the council into technical compliance with the law but it clearly undermines the intent of the statute,” Hamblett said.
Save The Bay has long criticized the CRMC board for using citizen appointees to approve coastal development. It prefers a model common in other states that relies on agency experts to confirm or deny shoreline development projects based on criteria.
Save The Bay and No LNG in PVD have accused the governor's office of using the appointments for political gain and to advance projects that favor developers. No LNG in PVD rebuked Raimondo and the CRMC for stacking the board with members favorable to the fossil-fuel industry and projects like the proposed LNG facility on the city's waterfront.
Sen. Jeanine Calkin, D-Cranston, said she wanted scientists, environmentalists and public-heath officials on the board, as well as members who can engage the public during hearings.
The Senate committee approved the reappointments, 7-1. Calkin cast the dissenting vote. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio sat in on the hearing and voted in favor of the appointments. Reynolds, Gomez and Hudner had their terms extended until Jan. 31, 2020. The full Senate is expected to confirm the appointments on June 7.
Also on June 7, the Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture is scheduled to hold a hearing on the changes to the CRMC appointment law (H2955).