Monday morning Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was honored for his local and national environmental initiatives, specifically his work to protect oceans and coasts through the National Endowment of the Oceans, Coasts and Great Lakes bill.
At Clean Water Action and Ocean State Action’s 10th Annual Earth Day Breakfast of Champions, four of Rhode Island’s environmental leaders were honored. In addition to Whitehouse, this year’s honorees included former RI Clean Water Action director Sheila Dormondy; Joe Neidl, director of public works for Central Falls; and Bari George, founder of Bike Newport.
Bob Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, emceed the event, which took place at the Aspray Boathouse in Pawtuxet.
Each honoree was commended for their leadership in environmentally friendly initiatives in the state.
Whitehouse was recognized as a champion for the environment and public health, like his work in 2011 to push for adequate disclosure of chemicals deemed unsafe for public exposure. This year, Whitehouse was lauded for his successful shepherding of the National Endowment of the Oceans, Coasts and Great Lakes through the Senate.
The bill is part of an amendment to a comprehensive transportation and infrastructure bill that Whitehouse said would create 2.9 million jobs nationwide and 9,000 here in Rhode Island.
The National Endowment of the Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes would fund projects to protect oceans and coasts while supporting jobs in industries like fishing and tourism.
When the legislation was passed in the Senate in mid-March, Whitehouse called the bill a “win-win for the Ocean State.”
Since then, the bill has faced some hurdles in the House. Instead of passing the Senate-approved, two-year funding bill, the House has decided to pass a series of short-term infrastructure and transportation funding extensions, which exclude the National Endowment of the Oceans, Coasts and Great Lakes. Because the House and Senate want to move forth with separate plans, the two chambers will likely enter into a conference period where both the House and Senate appoint smaller groups to compromise on what to do moving forward.
Although local Representatives James Langevin and David Cicciline favor the two-year plan, House Republicans feel they need more time to craft a transportation bill of their own.
“Passing a highway bill is a low bar to step over,” said Whitehouse at yesterday’s breakfast. “Yet the House of Representatives are stumbling on it. We need to keep the pressure on. Congress has been taking runs at basic environmental principles.”
Fellow Senator Jack Reed was also in attendance at yesterday’s breakfast, offering support for his colleague.
“Senator Whitehouse has been a one-man band with the creation and passing of the ocean endowment,” said Reed. “He has worked hard to restore quality to the environment.”
The National Endowment of the Oceans bill also includes the creation of the Projects of Regional and National Significance grant program, which could potentially provide funding to rebuild the Providence Viaduct.
Rep. David Cicilline, who is no stranger to the issues of Providence, also commended Senator Whitehouse at yesterday’s event.
“Whitehouse has done great work keeping our environment clean,” said Cicilline. “The [National Endowment of the Oceans] is a huge accomplishment not only for Rhode Island, but our future.”
Sharing the spotlight with Whitehouse yesterday were three other honorees from throughout Rhode Island.
Sheila Dormondy, former Rhode Island state director for Clean Water Action, was recognized for her legislative accomplishments in areas like electronics take-back programs and diesel emissions reductions. Dormondy was also lauded for her advocacy and work with groups like the Environmental Council of Rhode Island, Coalitions for Water Security and the Coalition for Transportation Choices.
Joe Neidl, director of public works for Central Falls, was honored for his leadership on the Rhode Island Product Stewardship Council, which works to address Rhode Island’s solid waste problem.
Bari George founded Bike Newport in 2011, with the goal of improving, encouraging and facilitating bicycling in Newport for the health and well-being of residents and visitors. George has also been working with the city of Newport to improve bike friendliness, safety, enterprise and planning.
With reports from Mark Vuono and Kim Kalunian.