Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why we are speaking out about the wind farm process

I am writing you today to explain why Common Cause Rhode Island has decided to oppose the newly revised process for approving the small wind farm off of Block Island found in bills H 8083 and S 2819. As you know, Common Cause is neither an energy nor an environmental group. We do not take a position on whether the wind farm should be built--in fact many of our members likely believe that we need to move to alternative forms of energy. What we do stand for is good government, as reflected in good process, and this bill is anathema to that concept.

You all know that for 15 years Common Cause has been closely associated with the Separation of Powers movement here in Rhode Island. That movement culminated in a series of changes to the state Constitution in 2004 removing legislators from executive boards and commissions. The logic behind that most significant change was that legislators should create processes and policies, and executives should carry them out. We feel that the current attempt by the Governor and legislature to bypass the Public Utilities Commission undermines the 15 years of work by Common Cause and others on the issue of Separation of Powers.

This legislation represents an attempt to make a policy change, ex post facto, by circumventing a historically important independent regulatory body. It substitutes a process that is much less independent, and has limited opportunity for appeal. The legislatures' judgment is being substituted for that of the experts charged with evaluating the proposal. This is abhorrent to the concept of Separation of Powers.

Perhaps most troubling is the precedent this sets for the future. Instead of an appeal, or a reevaluation of the criteria by which projects such as these are judged, the response to an adverse outcome in this instance has been to circumvent the process altogether, but only for this particular project. Where, we ask, will this behavior on the part of our elected officials end? What outcomes will they respect?

Common Cause has been a voice on the process of government for four decades in Rhode Island. We will continue to point out, when appropriate, instances where our elected officials disrespect the correct processes.

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