Labor, environmental leaders team up on R.I. green-economy goals

Date: January 29, 2021
Author: Nancy Lavin

PROVIDENCE – Free bus transit, clean energy heating systems in every public building and more bond funding for green initiatives are among the goals of a newly formed coalition of local labor leaders and climate activists.

The new Climate Jobs Rhode Island coalition, announced in a remote press conference on Friday, brings together labor and climate leaders in the shared mission of helping the state achieve net-zero emissions through a series of policy proposals that marry economic and environmental reform.

“We really see this as a nexus between labor and the environment,” said Priscilla De La Cruz, Rhode Island Director of the Green Energy Consumers Alliance. “Rhode Island transitioning to a green economy is an opportunity, not a cost burden, but an investment in quality jobs, lives and  the spaces we call home.” 

Making R.I. Public Transit Authority service free for riders – a way to boost ridership and in turn encourage ride-sharing – was one of the eight goals named by Patrick Crowley, Climate Jobs Rhode Island co-chairman and secretary and treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO. Other proposals included retrofitting every public school, municipal and health care building with clean-energy heating systems; creating more apprenticeship programs to serve the growing green economy; and two additional bonds beyond the $74 million for “green initiatives” set to go before voters in a March special election. 

Michael Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council, framed the host of initials as the “ultimate justice” for helping workers provide for their families through high-paying jobs that also advance a green economy. 

The group is also calling for “science-based, mandatory and enforceable emissions limits” in conjunction with state goals of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, investment in climate resiliency projects and addressing pollution that is disproportionately hurting low-income and minority communities.

Exactly what form these priorities will take – as legislation introduced in the 2021 General Assembly or part of the governor’s budget – is unclear. Several state lawmakers, including State Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Jamestown, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture, pledged support for the initiatives and willingness to introduce bills if needed.

Other members include the The Nature Conservancy, The Service Employees International Union District 1199, The Audubon Society of Rhode Island and R.I. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner.