Providence – Over 70 community members and concerned citizens joined members of Rhode Island's congressional delegation––Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed along with Congressman David Cicilline––for a coffee hour hosted by Environment Rhode Island at the First Unitarian Church in Providence. The delegation and community members discussed opportunities to move forward to protect Rhode Island's environment at a time when Congress continues to face gridlock.
For the environment-focused coffee hour, event attendees were asked to bring coffee mugs from home to save resources. Coffee was donated by New Harvest Coffee Roasters, and the event space was sponsored by the First Unitarian Church's social justice ministry. Community members in attendance, including local residents and environmental advocates, thanked the senators and congressman for their leadership on environmental issues in Congress, including clean water, protecting our best places, and global warming.
"Rhode Island's senators and congressmen are true champions for Rhode Island's environment," said Channing Jones, Campaign Director at Environment Rhode Island. "Their record speaks for itself. Standing up for all of us in Washington, D.C., they are fighting to keep our water clean and our air safe to breathe, and to move our country toward a clean energy future."
Environmental measures currently face significant opposition in Congress, especially in the Republican led House. Last year, while Rhode Island's delegation worked to defend landmark environmental policies, the House voted 109 times for measures that would have harmful effects on the environment, including blocking efforts to cut carbon pollution from power plants, protect waterways, and improve air quality, according to the U.S. House’s Energy and Commerce Committee.
Luckily, Rhode Island's delegation has been working hard to advance key environmental issues like global warming. On March 10, Sen. Whitehouse organized an all-night series of floor speeches on climate change, where he was joined by Sen. Reed and 29 other senators in calling on the rest of Congress to "wake up" to the scientific reality of a changing climate.
And on Friday morning, Sen. Whitehouse, Sen. Reed, and Rep. Cicilline were not hesitant about laying out their vision for moving forward to protect Rhode Island's environment despite opposition in Congress.
"I'm lucky to represent a state with such a vibrant and dedicated environmental community," said Sen. Whitehouse, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee for Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, and co-chair of both the Senate Climate Action Task Force and the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change. "Rhode Island faces serious challenges from the effects of climate change, but addressing these challenges presents opportunities to create clean energy jobs and grow our economy. I enjoyed discussing these issues today, and will continue working with Rhode Island’s environmental community on our state’s behalf."
"I commend Environment Rhode Island for hosting this forum and bringing people together to tackle environmental challenges," said Sen. Reed, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior & Environment. "Folks here in the Ocean State know how important water quality and the ocean are to our environment and economy. Public health and the security of future generations depends on us being good stewards of our waters, including both freshwater sources as well as the ocean and the Bay. In addition to fighting for clean water funding and policies, one of the best investments we can make in conservation is to strengthen environmental education."
"A clean environment improves the quality of life of all Rhode Islanders and I am glad to work with Environment Rhode Island and other local partners to preserve our state's natural beauty," said Rep. Cicilline. "We have to urgently act to prevent the negative impacts of climate change that are already taking place in Rhode Island and around the country to ensure future generations of Rhode Islanders can enjoy our state's natural environment."
Community members at the event agreed that it is time to move forward to cut power plant pollution and strengthen strong clean water protection to make all rivers and lakes safe for swimming and fishing. But moving forward with strong environmental solutions in Congress is unlikely until House Republican leaders end their assault on the environment.
"Congress must start thinking about what’s best for this county instead of what’s best for big polluters," said Jones. "We are going to have to deal with the polluted environment that will result if they don’t start listening to us rather than Exxon Mobil. Congress needs more champions like Rhode Island's delegation to defend the environment and public health."