The FY17 State Budget Bill, passed last week by the General Assembly, is a mixed bag for water quality in Narragansett Bay, according to Save The Bay Director of Advocacy Topher Hamblett. “The $35 million Green Economy Bond, introduced by Governor Raimondo and passed by the General Assembly, will help communities protect the Bay from polluted runoff. At the same time, the General Assembly’s failure to strengthen environmental enforcement capacity at the Department of Environmental Management, as proposed by the Governor, leaves the agency hamstrung in its efforts to crack down on polluters. This is a major disappointment to Rhode Islanders, who have a legal right to clean water and clean air and who expect strong enforcement of environmental laws designed to protect public health and safety,” Hamblett said.
The Green Economy Bond includes $3 million for stormwater pollution prevention projects in cities and towns. “Polluted runoff is a significant factor in water quality problems that lead to beach closures and algae blooms. The bond will help cities and towns plan and implement projects to reduce polluted runoff,” Hamblett said.
The Green Economy Bond protects the greater Narragansett Bay Watershed by protecting forested lands from development, and encouraging private investment in older, abandoned industrial sites. “The bond also supports public access to the Bay, a core goal of ours, by providing funds to upgrade iconic waterfront parks such as Brenton Point State Park in Newport, Goddard Park in East Greenwich, and Colt State Park in Bristol,” said Hamblett.
Save The Bay has been advocating for additional resources for the state’s environmental agencies for years. In December, the organization issued an open letter urging the Governor to reverse a 10-year trend of cutting staff at the DEM. The steady reduction of resources has severely limited the agency’s ability to enforce environmental laws meant to protect the state’s natural resources. In response to Save The Bay’s call, Governor Raimondo proposed the addition of two enforcement positions, which were subsequently removed from the budget by the General Assembly last week.
“The Governor’s proposed positions, while modest, would have been a reversal of a 10-year trend of cutting resources at DEM,” Hamblett said. “The good news is that the Governor heard our call. It’s a shame the General Assembly failed to recognize the importance of protecting Narragansett Bay and creating a fair and level playing field for business in Rhode Island.” Save The Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone emphasizes that Save The Bay takes a long view. “The work we do for Narragansett Bay takes years of dedicated effort. We will continue to fight for stronger enforcement capacity for as long as it takes. Enforcement is crucial to protecting our state’s most valuable natural resource, safeguarding public health and safety, and creating a fair and level playing field for business in Rhode Island,” Stone said.