2018 R.I. Primary: Candidate Profiles for Governor

Editor's note: We unintentionally failed to give Compassion Party candidate Anne Armstrong the same amount of time as the other candidates received to respond to our primary questionnaire. She submitted her responses on the evening of Aug. 28.

Compiled by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

The Rhode Island primary is scheduled for Sept. 12, and 11 candidates are running for governor, including incumbent Gina Raimondo. Three Democrats, three Republicans, three independents, a Compassion Party candidate, and a Moderate Party member are on the ballot.

ecoRI News sent each candidate a 10-question primary preview focused on environmental issues related to Rhode Island. Only four candidates, those with campaign photos included, took the time to respond.

Here is a look at Rhode Island's gubernatorial primary (candidates listed in alphabetical order):

DEMOCRATS

MattBrown.jpg

MATT BROWN
Offices held: Secretary of state 2003-2007
Website: https://www.mattbrownforgovernor.com

Brown is the only challenger with specific environmental objectives, such as 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 and a wind-energy dividend program.

What do you consider the top environmental issue facing Rhode Island? In the short term, new fossil-fuel infrastructure threatens the lives and health of Rhode Islanders and the environment across the state, from South Providence to Burrillville. We must oppose any new fossil-fuel infrastructure to protect our people and our environment. In the long term, climate change, matched only by nuclear weapons, is the biggest existential threat faced by our species, and that includes every single person in Rhode Island. Rising sea levels are a direct threat to our state's extensive coastline, our people, and our ecological health.

What is your position on the proposed Burrillville power plant? I have strongly publicly opposed the Invenergy corporation’s proposed Clear River Energy Center, which would be one of the largest fracked-gas plants in New England and would result the loss of more than 100 acres of forest in northwestern Rhode Island. ISO New England, our regional grid operator, has determined there was no foreseeable need for the plant’s power. The plant would pump hazardous toxins and more than 3.6 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air a year, making it impossible to meet the state’s already conservative carbon reduction goals, and the plant would probably operate for 30 years or more, locking Rhode Island into the polluting, monopoly energy economy of the 19th century for at least another generation.

What is your position on the proposed natural gas liquefaction facility at the Port of Providence? I am staunchly opposed to the proposed liquified natural gas (LNG) plant for South Providence, a low-income neighborhood where residents already experience some of the highest rates of asthma in the state. We shouldn't be investing in any new fossil-fuel infrastructure, and in the case of the LNG facility, there is significant element of environmental racism and classism. The LNG plant in South Providence would only further harm those communities.

Do you believe in anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change? This isn't a question of belief; it is scientific fact. Our use of fossil hydrocarbons is warming the atmosphere and already causing significant changes to the climate, leading to more extreme weather events that threaten people in every part of the world, including here at home.

Do you agree with the assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that under the worst-case scenario sea-level rise in Rhode Island could reach between 9 feet and 11.5 feet by 2100? Yes, that estimation sounds reasonable. Rising temperatures and Arctic ice melt is going to cause significant sea-level rise. That amount, if the worst-case scenario occurs, will be devastating to our state. I fully support financing to help the state and municipalities prepare for this future and believe both the state and communities should create comprehensive climate adaptation plans.

What role should your office play in addressing climate-change adaptation and mitigation? My administration will lead the development and execution of a statewide plan to ban all new fossil-fuel infrastructure and become the first state in the country to build a fully local renewable energy system — with enough surplus energy to export — by 2035. This is what the science says we need, and it’s also the biggest economic opportunity we’ve had in generations. Under my plan, Rhode Islanders would have a financial stake in our natural resources and receive dividend checks every year from offshore wind profits, just as residents of Alaska do with oil.

Would you support a state or regional carbon tax? We would assess the possible role of carbon pricing in the context of a broader plan that will fundamentally change the context of how we rapidly reduce carbon emissions. Under my plan, by 2035 we will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy and there will be a ban on new fossil-fuel infrastructure of any kind. We will create an entirely new paradigm regarding carbon emissions for the state, which is exactly what the science tells us we need.

Do you support a statewide ban on plastic checkout bags or other bans on plastics? I do. We have to be careful to do this the right way, so that grocery costs don't go up for working Rhode Islanders. But it's entirely feasible to do that, and the effect of banning plastic bags (and straws) could be profound in protecting the natural beauty and ecological health of our state, our ocean, and our people.

What is your stance on the use of open space for building new wind- and solar-energy projects? Rhode Island needs a comprehensive plan for where to situate renewable-energy projects. We’ll conduct a review of areas in the state with the greatest solar potential and change the incentives for local renewable-energy development by prioritizing the state’s rooftops, landfills, parking lots, and polluted industrial sites over our forests and green spaces.

Do you support smart-growth development? Absolutely. Urban sprawl is an incredibly important issue of environmental health, and investing in methods to curb that phenomenon should be front and center in statewide planning and development.

SpencerDickerso n.jpg

SPENCER DICKINSON
Offices held: House of Representatives 1973-1980 and 2011-2014
Website: http://www.spencerdickinson.com

Dickinson received a “B” in the 2014 legislative report card by the Environmental Council of Rhode Island.

What do you consider the top environmental issue facing Rhode Island? It has to be the Burrillville power plant. It’s the Koch brothers choking off the access of wind power. The Burrillville power plant is a battleground.

What is your position on the proposed Burrillville power plant? If I’m elected governor there will be no power plant in Burrillville. It will effectively thwart the growth of wind energy.

What is your position on the proposed natural gas liquefaction facility at the Port of Providence? I agree with the residential neighbors. It shouldn't be there. We need to rethink energy, actually. The bridge fuel is existing fossil-fuel power plants that run a few days a month. We need to liberate the funding from these fossil projects and not finance natural-gas infrastructure.

Do you believe in anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change? Yes. I can see it. I can see it on sea walls, on maps, and science sees it. We've got trouble.

Do you agree with the assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that  under the worst-case scenario sea-level rise in Rhode Island could reach between 9 feet and 11.5 feet by 2100? That’s absolutely possible. All those numbers are credible. We can’t know for sure, but you have to act on the worst-case scenario.

What role should your office play in addressing climate-change adaptation and mitigation? Maybe we haven't had the public discussion about adaptation and mitigation. This isn't an issue people tell me. Maybe we need some sort of public discourse. The key thing is to get the public to focus on what the problem is. We need to advance public discourse to understand what's going on. Solar farms are a priority. Would it really hurt that much to put put a solar farm wherever it can go? It’s like saying don’t build a shipyard in New London during Work War II. Deepwater Wind can be a leader just like the automakers. You’re telling me Detroit can make Fords, Chryslers, and Chevys and we can’t make wind towers. We need a World War II shipyard mentally.

Would you support a state or regional carbon tax? There’s a lot of strong reasoning behind it. I almost feel like it’s painting a target on yourself. It’s divisive and we may not want to go through that. It’s an issue that is disputable and can be confused. You have to get the people and the Legislature with you. There are some wars that should be fought another day. I think wind developer Mark DePasquale can do more by putting up a wind tower.

Do you support a statewide ban on plastic checkout bags or other bans on plastics? Sure. I think people can accept that. I don't think it will put-off a bunch of people. We can buy a canvas bag. It’s long overdue.

What is your stance on the use of open space for building new wind- and solar-energy projects? You need to do that if you are taking the problem seriously. The need to win the war overrides the need to protect certain properties. We’ll do them all. Twenty years later the woods are back. Let’s have our priorities. It could be a dead planet.

Do you support smart-growth development? I think we’ll be better as a state if we follow those concepts. How we put it into law is another question. There has to be a discussion and advocacy made first. I’m not sure we are ready for a law. But we should have the conversation.

Gov. GINA RAIMONDO
Offices held: Governor 2015-present; state treasurer 2011-2015
Website: https://ginaraimondo.com

Raimondo didn't return our candidate profile. ecoRI News completed some of the answers based on her record.

Top environmental issue facing Rhode Island: Climate change is listed on Raimondo’s website under the “Energy and Environment” tab. Her solution is a dramatic expansion of offshore wind and land-based solar. She supports the Paris Agreement but hasn't proposed enforceable reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.

Position on the proposed Burrillville power plant: Raimondo supported the nearly 1,000-megawatt natural gas/diesel-fueled project when it was announced in 2015. She has since modified her position to letting the application approval process play out.

Position on the proposed natural gas liquefaction facility at the Port of Providence: Raimondo hasn't taken a public position on the facility. As part of regional governor agreements, she supports the expansion of fossil-fuel pipelines and infrastructure.

Climate change is primarily caused by human activity: Yes.

Assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that under the worst-case scenario sea-level rise in Rhode Island could reach between 9 feet and 11.5 feet by 2100: Raimondo hasn't disputed this estimate. She generally supports the positions adopted by the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), which supports NOAA’s estimates.

Role in addressing climate-change adaptation and mitigation: Raimondo supports the state Executive Climate Change Coordination Council and policies set by the CRMC. Neither, however, has set enforceable goals for adaptation or mitigation.

State or regional carbon tax: Raimondo is noncommittal on a carbon tax and bills that establish them. She suggests favoring a model similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, but hasn't proposed one.

Statewide ban on plastic retail bags or other bans on plastics: During her four years in office, Raimondo has yet to endorse any of the bills that call for a ban on plastic checkout bags, Styrofoam, or other single-use plastics. In July, Raimondo signed the “Tackling Plastics” executive order that calls for non-regulatory programs, potential legislation and/or regulations, and other measures to eliminate plastic pollution.

The use of open space for building new wind- and solar-energy projects: Raimondo hasn't taken a position on this relatively new debate impacting rural and semi-rural communities. She supports a process for creating new siting rules led by the Office of Energy Resources. 

Smart-growth development: Raimondo generally supports smart growth but like most politicians she hasn't advocated for them through legislation since the RhodeMap RI debate. 

REPUBLICANS

GIOVANNI FEROCE
Offices held: Senate 1992-1994
Website: http://feroceforgovernor.nationbuilder.com

Feroce’s campaign didn't respond to our questions.

ALLAN FUNG
Offices held: Mayor of Cranston 2008-present
Website: https://www.allanfung.com

Fung’s campaign didn't return the questionnaire. ecoRI News compiled some of Fung’s remarks and environmental record on key issues.

As a candidate for governor in 2014, Fung told The Block Island Times that would try to stop the Deepwater Wind wind facility.

Fung said in a 2014 Rhode Island Public Radio debate that he supports the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council. He also mentioned support for open space protection, farms, and waterways.

As mayor, Fung supported the city’s acquisition of flood-prone homes in Cranston. The homes were torn down to allow the land to remain undeveloped.

He supports importing Canadian hydropower, and supports the development of large-scale solar facilities on open space.

PATRICIA MORGAN
Office held: House of Representatives 2010-present
Website: https://www.patriciaforri.com

Morgan’s campaign didn't respond to our questions. Some information in the public record addresses a few environmental issues.

Morgan supports the expansion of pipelines and natural-gas infrastructure. In 2017, she sent a letter to President Trump asking him to complete local pipeline projects, as well as the Keystone XL project.

On climate change, Morgan told ecoRI News last year that, “Climate change is happening, but human beings are smart and we’ll figure it out. Mastodons in Rhode Island couldn’t adapt and died. Humans can adapt.”

Morgan received an “F” in the latest Environmental Council of Rhode Island biannual legislative report card.

INDEPENDENTS

REBECCA McLAUGHLIN
Offices held: Unknown
Twitter: https://twitter.com/rebeccalmclaug1?lang=en

McLaughlin’s campaign didn't respond to our questions.

LUIS-DANIEL MUNOZ
Offices held: Unknown
Website: https://rhode2liberty.com

Munoz’s campaign didn't respond to our questions.

JoeTrillo.jpg

JOSEPH TRILLO
Offices held:
House of Representatives 2001-2015
Website: http://www.trilloforgovernor.com

Trillo received an “F” in the latest Environmental Council of Rhode Island biannual legislative report card.

What do you consider the top environmental issue facing Rhode Island? Narragansett Bay needs to be cleaned up more.

What is your position on the proposed Burrillville power plant? Opposed.

What is your position on the proposed natural gas liquefaction facility at the Port of Providence? I need more information.

Do you believe in anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change? Somewhat, yes.

Do you agree with the assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that  under the worst-case scenario sea-level rise in Rhode Island could reach between 9 feet and 11.5 feet by 2100? Somewhat.

What role should your office play in addressing climate-change adaptation and mitigation? Encourage stricter laws on what is emitted into the atmosphere for manufacturing, power plants, and other polluters.

Would you support a state or regional carbon tax? No.

Do you support a statewide ban on plastic checkout bags or other bans on plastics? Yes.

What is your stance on the use of open space for building new wind- and solar-energy projects? I’m in favor of, depending on the site.

Do you support smart-growth development? Yes.

COMPASSION PARTY

AnneArmstrong.jpg

ANNE ARMSTRONG
Offices held: None
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnneArmstrongRI

What do you consider the top environmental issue facing Rhode Island? The biggest threat to clean air and water in Rhode Island is our insatiable demand for energy produced by unsustainable sources such as fossil fuels and nuclear power. If we as a nation put a tiny fraction of the effort we’ve placed into fighting wars over pipelines into developing large-scale geothermal, tidal, biomass, solar, and wind installations, we’d be free of the threat of power plants in our beautiful northwestern corner, free from worry about offshore drilling, we’d be 100 percent renewable. We can lead by example in Rhode Island, by incentivizing green practices through tax credits, and encouraging renewable research and development.

What is your position on the proposed Burrillville power plant? The Burrillville power plant isn't intended to make power for Rhode Island residents. The energy is to be sold to the grid to feed the demand of neighboring states, but we can be better neighbors by reducing our demand such that this plant becomes fiscally untenable for its backers. Here’s how: According to the numbers given by Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation “Pot Czar” Norman Birenbaum, the growers of medical cannabis forced to comply with the silly laws that mandate that green plants be grown indoors in air-conditioned warehouses or cancer patients’ basements, while the summer sun shines brightly outside burn more electricity per year than the entire Burrillville power plant  is expected to produce. If we simply deschedule cannabis for personal outdoor cultivation, we’d eliminate the entire demand for this behemoth. I will provide data and show my math to back up this assertion to any interested person.

What is your position on the proposed natural gas liquefaction facility at the Port of Providence? LNG facilities are extremely dangerous and targets for terrorist attacks. It is unconscionable to subject densely populated areas to such dangers.

Do you believe in anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change? I do believe that human activity causes changes in the climate, such as when biohazards such as Monsanto Roundup and GMO crops, and factory-farmed animals completely disrupt entire biomes or when fossil-fuel power plants cause acid rain and deforestation.

Do you agree with the assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that  under the worst-case scenario sea-level rise in Rhode Island could reach between 9 feet and 11.5 feet by 2100? I haven’t got enough data at the moment, although I will look into it.

What role should your office play in addressing climate-change adaptation and mitigation? One thing my administration will have no part of is more special deals that provide sweetheart insurance to a few fancy beach houses while everyone else is left flooded and uncovered. The Pawtuxet River flood of 2010 reminded us all of how quickly everything we’ve worked for can be swept away. We can discourage building super-expensive homes in coastal areas and help those long living in floodplains by providing better flood insurance to the working people of Rhode Island. I don’t think Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s lawsuit against the oil companies was a good idea, because as long as we are still addicted to fossil fuels, a lawsuit that gives most of the money to the lawyers would do nothing but drive up the price of oil without solving the problem.

Would you support a state or regional carbon tax? That would depend on the specifics.

Do you support a statewide ban on plastic checkout bags or other bans on plastics? We can make edible plastics from seaweed. Instead of banning, let’s innovate.

What is your stance on the use of open space for building new wind- and solar-energy projects? I’d rather see solar panels in the suburbs than an LNG facility in Providence, but we can do even better than a Hegelian dialectic of two dissatisfactory choices. Several years ago, I noticed that the Rhode Island Statehouse dome was built by a prominent architect who was best friends with Nikola Tesla. Stanford White, the architect, was murdered in a tawdry society scandal that you can read about in the novel “Theophilus North” by Thornton Wilder, and this is relevant because at the same time that White was building our Statehouse out of piezoelectric marble, he was also collaborating with Tesla to build Wardenclyffe Tower, a kind of resonant energy source in New York. I used to design torpedoes for Raytheon, so I know a resonant cavity when I see one. The Rhode Island Statehouse was designed to be a “free energy” source and White was killed to interrupt the deployment of this great resource. I researched all the U.S. patents that referenced Wardenclyffe Tower and sent them e-mail, and I got an answer from a company in Georgia indicating that I was onto something. As governor, I can press for more research into this exciting possibility.

Do you support smart-growth development? I have a vision for our state where common sense, compassion, and cooperation can re-create Rhode Island into a place where everyone can live in abundance.

MODERATE PARTY

BILL GILBERT
Offices held: None
Twitter: https://twitter.com/moderatepartyri?lang=en

Gilbert’s campaign didn't respond to our questions.