Student Petition Puts R.I. on Climate-Change Alert

 Students from Nature’s Trust Rhode Island want the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to adopt their climate plan or face legal action. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Students from Nature’s Trust Rhode Island want the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to adopt their climate plan or face legal action. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Department of Environmental Management has 30 days to consider the petition or possibly be forced to address the proposal in court

Videos and text and by TIM FAULKNER, ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — One of the most enduring actions in the movement to address climate change has been youth-led legal challenges. Across the county, young plaintiffs are suing the federal government in nine states over the failure to address climate change while favoring fossil-fuel companies.

On Sept. 5, a group of students from second grade through graduate school presented their own challenge, albeit through administrative action. Nature’s Trust Rhode Island and the Sisters of Mercy Ecology delivered a 200-page plan to the Rhode Island Department of Environment Management (DEM) that asks the state agency to adopt strict regulations to protect them against climate change.

Currently, Rhode Island only has non-binding climate-reduction targets and legislation in the General Assembly has repeatedly failed to make them mandatory.

“Rhode Island’s current approach to reducing emissions is not based on the best available science. Moreover, the state does not currently take into account embodied emissions in products consumed in Rhode Island but emitted during manufacturing or transportation outside the state,” according to the petition.

By submitting the proposal to DEM, the agency has 30 days to consider the emissions-reduction plan. If not, DEM may be forced to address the proposal in court.

The petition asks DEM to adopt climate goals based on science. The plan must also address the precautionary principle, environmental justice, an emission budget and accounting, natural carbon storage, and negative emissions. It asks that the regulations be developed within six months, followed by public input. The plan would then be submitted to the General Assembly for approval.

“We need a home for our future generations,” said Chloe Moers, 16, of Providence. “I don’t want us to worry about basically being homeless from the planet that supports us.”

DEM didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Security interrupted the press event to ask the student activists to leave.