Student Petition Denied, Legal Challenge Expected

 ‘It is so disappointing that the state won't listen to us,’ said Philip Tierney, 14, of East Providence, R.I. ‘Climate change is coming at a rapid pace, and they don't do anything about it. The future looks scary.’ (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

‘It is so disappointing that the state won't listen to us,’ said Philip Tierney, 14, of East Providence, R.I. ‘Climate change is coming at a rapid pace, and they don't do anything about it. The future looks scary.’ (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Student activists lost their plea urging the state to take a tougher stance on climate change, but a legal challenge is expected. 

Last month, the group Nature’s Trust Rhode Island, made up some 12 students from second grade through graduate school, held a protest as they delivered a petition to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), asking the agency to adopt strict regulations to protect them against climate change.

DEM waited the full 30 days it was required to respond before denying the petition. The agency’s response letter stated that student demands for a “very specific timeframe” for eliminating greenhouse-gas emissions and a “very specific accounting framework” for determining the life cycle impact of out-of-state emissions would be unprecedented. DEM said there are better solutions.

The letter signed by Mary E. Kay, executive counsel, noted DEM and other state efforts to reduce carbon emissions, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, offshore wind projects, electric cars and buses, tougher vehicle emission standards, and Rhode Island’s greenhouse-gas reduction plan. The letter also mentions the attorney general’s lawsuit against ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP that seeks compensation for climate-change impacts.

In a press release, Nature’s Trust Rhode Island said DEM’s letter fails to mention that Gov. Gina Raimondo supports the expansion of fossil-fuel infrastructure, which the group calls “a major step in the wrong direction.”

Nature’s Trust explained that DEM’s response coincides with the urgent call to action in the climate assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). One of the key findings states that the world has about 12 years to cut carbon pollution by 45 percent to avoid major environmental and health consequences.

“In contrast with the recent IPCC report and despite the evidence presented in the petition, DEM justifies its denial by stating that the requested measures ‘would be unprecedented’ and not ‘the only or best approach,’” according to Nature’s Trust.

Meghan Janicki, a 10th-grader at West Warwick High School, said, “All that action can do is help, and RI DEM is not willing to help us, or the environment. We must be willing to take action or make change for anything to get better.”

University of Rhode Island physics professor Peter Nightingale, an organizer for the student group, said the student board members voted to appeal DEM’s decision. No legal action has yet been taken, but an appeal must be filed in Superior Court within 30 days.

“We’re not going to go away that’s for sure,” Nightingale said.