Personal Essay: Seeking partnerships to protect the environment

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 5:30pm

On Friday, Oct. 4, Ed Roberge and I attended the R.I. Energy, Environment & Oceans Leaders Day at the R.I. Convention Center. The event is an opportunity to gather together Rhode Island’s leading experts from the scientific community, environmental advocacy groups, state and local leaders, and academia to interact and confront contemporary environmental issues facing Rhode Island.

The conference, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and emceed by Sheila Dormody of The Nature Conservancy, included talks on state finance and programming on climate change by R.I. Treasurer Seth Magaziner, on energy and environment by the former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman and Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, and a presentation on current climate change movement of the Hip Hop caucus by the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. There were also several breakout sessions, including roundtable discussions on plastics in the environment, climate change, and the effects on the domestic food supply, as well as an update on the pathway to net-zero emissions.

I participated in the breakout session regarding plastics in our environment. The session mirrored the ongoing discussion the Town Council has been undertaking regarding plastics in our own marine environment. It was interesting to learn that even the calmest coves in the state contain microplastics, as evidenced by recent trawls undertaken by Save the Bay. The problem extends way beyond what we see washed up on our beaches, shining a light on the notion that what is not seen causes the most damage and needs immediate action.

Town Manager Ed Roberge participated in the panel discussion regarding ongoing efforts in Rhode Island to reduce emissions across electric, transportation, building and manufacturing sectors. Block Island was recognized as a state-wide leader with the Block Island Wind Farm pilot project leading the way to Rhode Island’s current total of 793 megawatts of renewable energy sources (meeting 34 percent of the state’s demand). Major regional initiatives are underway, such as the Transportation Climate Initiative, specifically targeting expansion of electric vehicle and public transit opportunities, as well as constructing enhanced and resilient transportation infrastructure. 

We had the opportunity to sit in on a roundtable discussion with Region 1 EPA Administrator Dennis Deziel. We informed the group of our recent plastic bag and balloon ban, but suggested a regional approach with our southern neighbor states. Ocean currents are a major source of Rhode Island's, and particularly Block Island's, marine plastic refuse problem. We also noted the importance of local engagement and funding opportunities at the city and town level throughout Rhode Island where the impacts of climate change, rising sea levels, and stormwater management are felt first. 

In all, the conference was well-attended and it gave us the opportunity to meet with our Congressional delegation and state and federal level advocates, as well as reinforce our, the Town Council and its leadership, commitment to be involved and be partners at the highest levels relating to issues that are important to Block Island.

André Boudreau is Second Warden for the town of New Shoreham.