Around New England

Climate-Change Activists Wants Judge To Tell State Environmental Agency and State Legislature What To Do

October 28, 2019

Environmental activists in Rhode Island are suing to try to get the state’s courts to force the state’s environmental agency to take actions against climate change that the activists think the state should take.

A state superior court judge in Providence wasn’t immediately impressed by the legal case, wondering if the courts have jurisdiction.

“I have a concern that this case is a square peg in a round hole,” said Judge Melissa Darigan, according to the Providence Journal.

The judge said she will take written arguments from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the defendant, followed by arguments from the plaintiff, according to the Providence Journal.

The plaintiff is Nature’s Trust Rhode Island, which according to the Providence Journal is representing 13 young Rhode Island residents and is supported by groups called Fossil Free Island and Sisters of Mercy Ecology.

Nature’s Trust Rhode Island submitted a 195-page “emergency rulemaking action” to the state’s environmental agency in September 2018. Also supporting the submission is Mercy Ecology Inc., according to the document.

Mercy Ecology Inc. describes itself as an “educational, preservation, research and training activities related to the ecology of the earth and spiritual understanding and integration with the environment and the activities of life.” Six of the 16 members of the group’s board of directors listed on the Mercy Ecology Inc. web site use the initials “RSM” after their name, which members of the Roman Catholic religious institute Sisters of Mercy use. The group runs the Mercy Ecospirituality Center in Benson, Vermont, according to its web site.

The environmentalists’ proposed rule states that “The State of Rhode Island shall not exceed its share of the global emissions budget” and anticipates that the state may be required to ensure “negative emissions” if the state doesn’t stay within its “budget” of emissions.

The submission includes a question-and-answer section that anticipates objections that setting environmental policy for the state is the prerogative of the state legislature and executive branch:

Why is this citizen petition necessary?

Rhode Island’s climate is already changing for the worse, and the State has already acknowledged that this is due to greenhouse gas emissions. The science is clear: the situation is going to get much worse and quickly. Federal action is not forthcoming, so each state needs to act alone. The General Assembly has declined to step up to meet this urgent need. The expert agency created to deal with environmental problems, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) must therefore act under its constitutional and statutory responsibilities to urgently to fill this breach. A Citizen Petition is being filed because DEM has not done so. The Petition seeks both emergency action and the initiation of a public process to establish a permanent rule. Both are authorized by long-standing Rhode Island law. The Petition, if granted, would require the proposed rule be used as the initial basis of consideration because it covers a comprehensive set of issues that need to be addressed.




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