Energy and Environment
I have worked diligently in Congress to promote comprehensive policies promoting sound environmental stewardship, along with programs to enhance our energy security, ensure all Rhode Islanders have access to affordable power, and encourage energy conservation. I believe we must harness Americans’ ingenuity and creativity to make the United States a world leader in renewable energy technology and move our nation toward energy independence.
Creating Comprehensive Energy Solutions
Our nation needs a comprehensive energy strategy that includes the development of clean and renewable energy sources, as well as new initiatives to encourage conservation and energy efficiency in order to protect hard working families and small business from high oil and gas prices. While big oil companies pull in enormous profits, our consumers are paying the price.
I am a founding member of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC) and currently serve as Energy Task Force chair. SEEC was established to advocate for policies including clean energy innovation and job creation, environmental protection, and addressing global climate change. (For more information on SEEC and the Coalition’s efforts to pursue clean energy policies, please visit our website.) As a member of SEEC, I joined 26 colleagues in highlighting specific clean energy and energy efficiency incentives, many of which were extended in the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014.
These tools will help move us towards energy independence, strengthen national security, stabilize the economy, lower energy prices and begin to combat global warming. Just as the United States rallied around President Kennedy’s call to put a man on the moon, so too must our nation harness its creativity and ambition to create new technologies that help us achieve energy independence. Small businesses have already taken on this challenge, and I am proud of the many Rhode Island companies leading the way with innovative solutions to best meet the energy needs of local communities.
We have the tools to make our buildings more energy efficient, but they are often viewed by developers as not being cost-effective. In turn, high energy costs are often incurred by property owners or renters, creating a significant disconnect between developers and users. To address this, I have introduced the Building Efficiently Act, which provides incentives for energy efficient construction and renovations. This bill will not only help bridge the disconnect between developers and end-users, it will create jobs in Rhode Island’s construction sector and decrease energy use and pollution for our consumers and businesses. If we empower Americans to make energy efficient choices, we can take a critical step towards energy independence.
Our nation’s natural resources and open spaces must be preserved for current and future generations. No Rhode Islander can live in our great state without developing an appreciation for nature, and we are particularly fortunate to have access to the Narragansett Bay, beaches, parks, forests, and other impressive natural areas. In the tradition of environmental respect with which Rhode Islanders are raised, I have been working in Congress to protect our natural resources so that all Americans may experience their benefits. I am proud to say that legislation I cosponsored to establish the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park became law last year. In addition, legislation I authored to preserve and enhance the Wood Pawcatuck Watershed was signed into law in 2014. Through my efforts, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act was incorporated into H.R.3979, the Carl Levin and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015. This measure could pave the way for making our rivers eligible for federal funds and protections under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Improving the Quality of Our Air
No American should have to breathe polluted air. In order to reduce the levels of harmful emissions contributing to air pollution, I opposed Republican efforts to gut EPA regulations of mercury and other toxins. Furthermore, I have supported legislation that would require 20 percent of our nation’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020.
Addressing Global Climate Change
Human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, leading to global warming. Rising sea levels could endanger the Rhode Islanders living along our 400 miles of coastline, while beach erosion would make our communities more prone to flooding and harm our tourism-based economy. Additionally, the related destruction of wetlands would eradicate wildlife habitats – particularly for migratory birds – and reduce the natural buffer against storm surges. As a member of Congress, I strongly advocate policies that will reduce our global emissions while creating opportunities to support emerging industries ripe with technological innovation and job creation.
In addition to developing new sources of power, we must also promote energy conservation efforts. A slight increase in the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards of automobiles, light trucks, and sport utility vehicles can drastically reduce our nation’s consumption of oil. Energy efficiency programs such as CAFE have the potential to save the U.S. economy $130 billion annually. The 2025 CAFE standards of 54.5 mpg will result in consumer savings comparable to lowering the price of gasoline by $1 per gallon. I also supported a funding increase for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which can assist homeowners in reducing their energy costs by more than $413 in one year.
Keeping Our Water Safe and Clean
The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the premier piece of federal environmental legislation governing water pollution. However, since its enactment in 1972, several Supreme Court cases have caused significant confusion throughout the federal appellate court system, with different circuits applying different jurisdictional tests for “navigable waters”. This in turn has led to great uncertainty for businesses seeking discharge permits, and has endangered ecosystems that should be protected by the CWA. In 2013, I sent a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy urging the EPA to restore protections to all of our nation's waterways, and prioritize its initial rulemaking. The EPA recently proposed a rule to clarify which waters are and are not protected under the CWA. The EPA has stated that the rule is not an expansion of existing law: “if an activity was exempted or excluded before this proposal, it will remain exempted or excluded. If you didn’t need a permit for a type of activity before, you won’t need one now.”
Since the Bush Administration changed an important rule in 2002, mining companies engaging in mountaintop removal have been able to dump their waste into nearby streams. Some streams wind up buried forever while others can be contaminated by the pyrite often found in coal residue. The broad nature of the rule change also means that other industries including construction and hard rock mining could begin dumping their fill into our nation’s waters. I support going back to the original definition, used by the EPA for 25 years, and have been an original cosponsor of the Clean Water Protection Act, which would codify this change. I am also a co-sponsor of the Closing Loopholes and Ending Arbitrary and Needless Evasion of Regulations (CLEANER) Act. The bill would close the loophole in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, better known as RCRA, that exempts all fracking waste from safe disposal requirements. The CLEANER Act eliminates the 33 year old RCRA loophole and requires the fracking industry to dispose of their waste safely, protecting public health and the environment from harm.
Conserving Our Public Lands and Resources
To prevent our natural habitats from being spoiled due to production and development, I oppose oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This environmentally sensitive area could be irreparably harmed by drilling, and I feel that we should explore other options for increased energy production. Furthermore, I support full funding for programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has helped preserve many sites of environmental, cultural and historic value in Rhode Island.