Editor’s note: This past summer ecoRI News sent the candidates running for Sheldon Whitehouse’s U.S. Senate seat, including the incumbent, a 10-question primary preview focused on environmental issues related to Rhode Island. This story has been updated for the general election.
Compiled by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
The Rhode Island general election is scheduled for Nov. 6, and two candidates are running for Sheldon Whitehouse’s U.S. Senate seat, including the incumbent.
Here is a look at Rhode Island’s U.S. Senate race:
Sen. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE
Offices held: U.S. attorney for Rhode Island 1994-1998; Rhode Island attorney general 1999-2002; U.S. Senate 2007-present
What do you consider the top environmental issue facing Rhode Island? The Ocean State’s way of life and economy have so much at stake in the fight against climate change. Carbon emissions are driving sea-level rise and higher storm surges that threaten to swallow large parts of Rhode Island’s coastline and coastal economy.
What is your position on the proposed Burrillville power plant? I have not taken a position on Invenergy’s specific proposal, as the siting decision is in a rule-of-law proceeding before the proper state-level agencies. I’ve been listening to constituents who are very concerned about the effects of a potential new power plant in Burrillville, and I am watching the process closely. As a U.S. senator, I’m leading the fight in Congress to end the subsidy for fossil fuels that drives expansion of projects like this one. We need in our region adequate and reliable sources of energy that take into account the social cost of carbon and are affordable.
What is your position on the proposed natural gas liquefaction facility at the Port of Providence? I have sent several letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking that carbon emissions be considered as part of the agency’s decision and for the public comment period to be extended so that every Rhode Islander with a question or concern about this project can be heard.
Do you believe in anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change? Absolutely. The science clearly shows that humans are causing climate change. I’ve been leading the charge in the Senate to expose the front groups for the fossil-fuel industry that promote climate-change denial and threaten Republicans with enormous amounts of anonymous campaign spending if they step out of line on this issue.
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, I trust the scientists at NOAA and Rhode Island’s own Coastal Resources Management Council. Rhode Island is poised to have to make real changes to adapt to higher sea levels if we don’t take action to reduce carbon emissions.
What role should your office play in addressing climate-change adaptation and mitigation? I serve on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee where I’m working to expedite the transition to a clean-energy economy and hold polluters and the fossil-fuel industry accountable for the damage they’re causing to our environment and economy. I have made more than 200 speeches on the Senate floor calling Congress’ attention to the need to act on climate change before we see more damaging effects.
Would you support a state or regional carbon tax? I am the author of the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, which would put in place a carbon fee at the national level and return every dollar collected back to the American people. Prominent Republicans who are serious about solving the challenge of climate change have endorsed a revenue-neutral carbon fee like the one I’ve proposed.
Do you support a statewide ban on plastic checkout bags or other bans on plastics? I authored the bipartisan Save Our Seas Act to curb the plastic pollution filling the oceans, washing up on the shoreline, and clogging nets of Rhode Island fishermen. Versions of the Save Our Seas Act were passed by the Senate and House, and it’s now heading to conference. Bans on specific plastic items are well to be decided at the state and local level, and those decisions have been helpful.
What is your stance on the use of open space for building new wind and solar energy projects? Moving to clean, cost-effective energy sources needs to be a top priority, and balanced with protecting fields and forests treasured by local communities. The first-in-the-nation offshore wind farm off the coast of Block Island is an example of how groups with competing interests can work together to minimize any disruption from bringing new clean energy sources online.
Do you support smart-growth development? Yes. We need to make sure communities are designed in a way that creates more economic mobility and encourages the use of public transportation.
ROBERT FLANDERS JR.
Offices held: R.I. Supreme Court associate justice 1996-2004; Barrington Town Council
Flanders’ campaign didn't respond to our questions.