By Rep. June S. Speakman, Rep. Susan R. Donovan, Rep. Liana Cassar, Rep. Terri Cortvriend and Rep. Lauren Carson

As we keep our distance from each other and watch with sadness as the coronavirus sweeps through our beautiful country and across the world, we are reminded how precious human life is and how fragile it can be. In the face of intense challenge, we are reminded how essential it is that public policy be guided by data, science and sound analysis. 

Fifty years ago this month, 20 million Americans took to the streets in protest on the first Earth Day to raise awareness regarding the catastrophic environmental impacts of a lack of environmental policy based on data, science, sound analysis and a respect for the planet. The protests were a clear demand for a new way to be stewards of the planet.

Rhode Island’s stewardship has come via our state’s commitment to addressing climate resilience and has included planning, collaboration and coordination driven by data, science and analysis. The Climate Change office in the Department of Administration, as well as the Resilient Rhody initiatives, have made major progress for our communities during the past two years and have included municipal and state-level engagement and collaboration. Additionally, as a state, we are seeing significant growth in our clean energy sector to offset the impacts of fossil fuel consumption. 

These have been good signs of progress to move our state forward and for our municipalities to be good stewards of the environment. There is additional work to be done, especially in the areas of environmental justice, to eliminate the undue burden on communities, which results in excess environmental exposures for certain municipalities and neighborhoods. Fortunately, we have good partners in our committed departments of public works, sewer authorities and landfill managers, as well as in the Department of Environmental Management and the Department of Health. 

While keeping our momentum on developing and implementing a plan to improve the climate resilience of our state’s coastlines, waterways and infrastructure, we must work to strengthen policies for improved waste management and increased composting, improvements to our drinking water infrastructure, and decreasing pollution and single-use plastics. As we work together to grow our capacity to address these issues, we can move our state forward in the stewardship of our natural resources, protecting our air and water, and supporting economic growth and economic justice. 

We see, despite our social distancing and sheltering in place, that a gorgeous spring has arrived. The flowering trees are in bloom, the hyacinths and azaleas abound and the birds are out in force.  

This year on Earth Day, we will not be able to have the usual events with community volunteers gathering to tidy their parks and clean their waterfronts. In lieu of that work, we encourage you to join us in reminding our colleagues in the legislature that this is a good time to renew their commitment to policies to keep our air and water clean, minimize waste, encourage renewable energy, eliminate excessive plastics, build resilience in our coastal towns and support bikeable, walkable communities. 

This year, as we keep our distance, each of us can tidy up our little corners of the earth. Policymakers, however, have the more urgent task of fighting this virus, or supporting those who do.  We cannot predict at this point when the legislature will be back to the regular order of things, but we know that we are committed to making progress for our state. And if we’ve learned anything from the current crisis, it is that we must acknowledge how fragile our existence is and how great, unknown and unexpected the threats can be.  We commit to redoubling our efforts to ensure that data, science, planning and coordination are applied to all areas of public policy, from public health to education to protecting our precious environment.

We hope that you have a chance to take actions as stewards of Rhode Island’s natural resources for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this month. We will guard our environment, together. 

Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol), Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) and Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport) all represent coastal communities and share deep concern for the environment.