Editor’s note: This past summer ecoRI News sent the candidates running for Daniel McKee’s lieutenant governor 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 five candidates are running for Daniel McKee’s lieutenant governor seat, including the incumbent.
Here is a look at Rhode Island’s Lt. Gov. race:
Offices held: Lt. gov. 2014-present; mayor of Cumberland 2000-2014
McKee’s campaign didn't respond to our questions.
Offices held: None
What do you consider the top environmental issue facing Rhode Island? Hundreds of years of poor stewardship of Rhode Island’s environment has left us with uncontained landfills and contaminated abandoned industrial sites. The nature of Rhode Island’s geography, with thick glacial aggregate deposits left over from the last ice age, means that these all pose a risk to our groundwater, the bay, and the health of all Rhode Islanders. Dioxins, VOC’s, lead, hexavalent chromium, mercury, benzene, and toxins will not go away with simple social changes, and they spread further and further every day, become more expensive to address, and pose greater and greater risks to Rhode Islanders.
What is your position on the proposed Burrillville power plant? The Burrillville power plant is absolutely unnecessary because clean, sustainable power could be brought in from the hydroelectric plants in Canada for a fraction of the price. Presently, New Hampshire is blocking the transmission of this renewable energy. The lack of inexpensive energy drives up the cost of electricity and provides an incentive for corporations to build power plants and corrupt politicians to force their location to be in the most profitable location, no matter what the local citizens feel about the negative impact on their rural environment and lifestyle.
What is your position on the proposed natural gas liquefaction facility at the Port of Providence? As long as we are dependent upon fossil fuels, we should seek the ones that cause the least damage to our environment. Of all fossil fuels, natural gas is the cleanest and has the least impact on our environment, so it should be encouraged over coal and diesel. There is concern about the use of hydraulic fracturing “fracking” to increase production of natural gas. Presently, 60 percent of our natural gas comes from wells that have been enhanced with this process. But compared to coal and diesel, the environmental impact is far less, especially when you consider that fracking is used to increase production of the oil used to make heating oil. A steady supply of natural gas will reduce the use of heating oil and coal, resulting in a cleaner environment.
Do you believe in anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change? There is ample evidence that humans can cause both localized and widespread climate change. The desertification of North Africa, once a lush grassland, is an irrefutable example of how humans can cause climate change. Human activity, such as urbanization, can cause “heat islands.” Any rational discussion on anthropogenic climate change should be on how severe the effects are most likely to be and how to best mitigate those effects.
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? Both worst-case and best-case scenarios are extreme examples that call for sets of highly unusual circumstances. The United Nations group IPCC that won the Nobel Prize for their work on climate change predicted a 1-meter rise over the next 100 years. Their recent models have suggested that the sea levels could rise 2 meters, though their models have not accounted for the “pause” caused by reduced solar activity. For the sea level in Rhode Island to rise 3 meters, this would require a world population increase of 4 billion people and an exponential increase in the consumption of fossil fuels and urbanization, and no further continental rebound from the retreat of the ice caps. Sea-level trends in Narragansett Bay over the last 100 years do not suggest that we are likely to face a worst-case scenario.
What role should your office play in addressing climate-change adaptation and mitigation? The office of lieutenant governor does not set policy or vote on legislation. A lieutenant governor could offer his voice to the discussion. But even with the worst-case scenario for Rhode Island being at most a 3-meter rise by the end of the century, any concern about migrating away will not be a good use of the limited influence a lieutenant governor could bring to more time-sensitive environmental concerns.
Would you support a state or regional carbon tax? A carbon tax is often proposed to reduce consumption of fossil fuels, but we saw for ourselves that huge increases in the price of gasoline have not diminished the demand for gasoline. The only thing that will reduce the use of fossil fuels is the creation of new technologies that demand less energy like LED lights and hybrid vehicles and those that make alternative energy cost-competitive, like inexpensive, high-output solar cells. I also reject the idea that we should give our already-overbearing government even more control over our lives. Government should not make our decisions for us.
Do you support a statewide ban on plastic checkout bags or other bans on plastics? The problem isn’t the plastic, it is human behavior. Many people fail to see the effects that their self-centered decisions have outside of themselves. Banning plastic checkout bags or other plastic is an attempt to solve social problems by giving government control over our lives rather than holding people accountable for their decisions. In previous years, social changes have been approached by education, by setting good examples, of identifying behaviors and offering alternatives. The use of government force is dangerous and often counter-productive.
What is your stance on the use of open space for building new wind and solar energy projects? Provided the space is privately owned and the projects are privately funded, the only concern would be the impact on the locality, which means that the neighbors and other affected people would be able to get their local zoning commission to require remediation, if needed.
Do you support smart-growth development? Smart-growth development fits well with Rhode Island’s traditional village culture and should be encouraged. Even if it wasn’t for the environmental benefits, but because it also makes great economic sense. Presently, our many zoning boards and master plans work in an 1970s mindset of ever-expanding suburbs. Educating our city planners about the benefits of smart-growth development has a potential for a good result in developing more livable communities.
Offices held: None
What do you consider the top environmental issue facing Rhode Island? There are too many important environmental issues facing Rhode Island to limit it to just one. Overdevelopment and urban and suburban sprawl are major environmental issues that need to be addressed. Protecting the quality of our air, land, and water is essential. We need to seriously address global warming and climate change now before it is too late to avoid disastrous consequences.
What is your position on the proposed Burrillville power plant? I am opposed to the proposed Burrillville power plant. Talking with the residents in the area it is clear they don’t want it. This plant will primarily burn natural gas, which is doubling down on fossil fuels and there are also issues with the water requirements of this proposed plant. To make things worse, the industrial-scale proposed power plant will damage the naturally wooded area of Burrillville. I would much rather see this level of investment put towards more offshore wind turbines or properly sited solar energy.
What is your position on the proposed natural gas liquefaction facility at the Port of Providence? Short answer: I am against the proposed natural gas liquefaction facility at the Port of Providence. I am open to further discussion and weighing all the factors. There is already a 127-foot-high liquefied natural gas tank owned by National Grid at Fields Point that is used as a reserve for cold days. The problem is this tank is not connected to the natural gas pipeline and requires trucks or tanker ships for filling. The proposed natural gas liquefaction facility will enable the new tank to be filled from the existing U.S. gas pipeline, ensuring an adequate supply of natural gas on cold winter days and eliminating the need for LNG (liquefied natural gas) to be trucked or shipped in. Will this proposed facility be overall better for the environment than trucking or shipping in natural gas? There is also the possibility that this proposed facility will not be used for the benefit of Rhode Islanders, but will be used to fill LNG tanker ships for overseas markets where the natural gas commands a higher price than here in the U.S. I am strongly against this.
Do you believe in anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change? Yes. Modern civilization is currently relying on massive amounts of fossil fuels to “keep the wheels turning.” An unavoidable byproduct of burning fossil fuels is carbon dioxide, a known greenhouse gas. There is a lot of solid scientific evidence that links the rise in carbon dioxide with the rise in global temperatures.
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 have no reason to disagree with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on this issue. This is a worst-case scenario but even half this amount will be very bad for Rhode Island’s miles of coastline and communities. There are numerous benefits that come with addressing the sources of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, including cleaner air, land, and water, less reliance on foreign oil, and more local jobs for a sustainable future.
What role should your office play in addressing climate-change adaptation and mitigation? The office of lieutenant governor has significant potential to make positive changes for the environment, addressing climate change and promoting the use of renewable energy. With the office in the Statehouse at the heart of Rhode Island legislation, a lieutenant governor passionate about environmental issues can be a watchdog for environmentally bad bills and a vocal advocate for environmentally good bills. Along with current duties, addressing climate change and other environmental issues should be within the realm of the lieutenant governor's office.
Would you support a state or regional carbon tax? Not at this time. I would support a global carbon tax for all industrialized nations and this would ensure a level economic playing field. A global carbon tax has the potential to seriously address rising greenhouse-gas levels and global warming while helping to make renewable energy more economically advantageous. Rhode Island has already been hit hard economically by unfair competition from foreign countries, many with terrible environmental records. I am not supportive at this time of measures that have the potential to adversely affect Rhode Island’s economy.
Do you support a statewide ban on plastic checkout bags or other bans on plastics? I am generally supportive of a statewide ban on plastic checkout bags as they pose numerous environmental issues. An alternative to a statewide ban is a small fee for each plastic bag which can naturally decrease use. This was done in Washington, D.C., with a 5-cent charge per plastic bag and significantly decreased plastic bag use.
What is your stance on the use of open space for building new wind- and solar-energy projects? I am a huge advocate of renewable energy. I do have concerns with cutting down forested areas for solar and other projects. Wind turbines have a smaller land footprint and do not seem to present as large a problem with clear-cutting as solar installations. I strongly support the installation of wind and solar projects in areas that do not require clear-cutting forested areas or adversely affecting other natural areas. An example is the use of solar canopies over parking lots. These provide renewable energy while providing coverage for vehicles, without affecting natural areas.
Do you support smart-growth development? Yes.
Offices held: Unknown
Riccitelli’s campaign didn't respond to our questions.
Offices held: Unknown
Hellman’s campaign didn't respond to our questions.