The Environmental Unit employs a community-based legal approach to achieve a healthful environment for present and future Rhode Islanders. The Unit’s mission is: (1) vigorous enforcement of environmental laws, (2) securing public access to the Ocean State’s shore and other natural areas, (3) promoting sound implementation of state and federal environmental statutes, and (4) defending against unjust claims by polluters. The Unit, which is situated within the Civil Division, has three attorneys and the equivalent of one secretary.
Included within the Unit is the Environmental Advocate. Under Rhode Island General Law §10-20-3, the Environmental Advocate, as directed by the Attorney General, serves the general public by means of independent litigation, policy recommendations and outreach.
Examples of the Unit’s litigation achievements – which include many cases in the US Supreme Court – follow: Downing v. RI, 643 F.3d 16 (1st Cir.) (preservation of Native American site upheld) cert. den. 132 S.Ct. 502 (2011); Livingston v. Koolen, Super. Ct. P.C.#11-5839 (secured the removal of an illegal marina on the Kickemuit River at no cost to the taxpayers); US v. AEP, 136 F.Supp.2d 762 (S.D. Ohio 2001) revised 2014 (obtained nearly $2,000,000 for energy-saving projects in R.I. such as weatherization of low-income housing); UARG v. EPA, 134 S.Ct. 2427 (2014) (joined others to uphold a series of EPA limits on greenhouse gasses); Mass. v. U.S, C.A. No. 13-cv-113-1-RGS (D. Mass.) (amicus brief challenging the government’s regulations as too severe on New England’s fishermen); Coit v. Coccoli, Super. Ct. No. PC 12-2481 (set aside sham entity in order to reach the real person responsible for leak); Auto. Manuf. v. Sullivan, No. 09-1023 (1st Cir 2010) (saved RI’s clean car rule); Entergy v. Riverkeeper, 129 S.Ct. 1498 (2009) (led 6 states in fighting the EPA’s prior lenient policy); Newport Realty v. Lynch, 878 A2d 1021 (RI 2005) (asserted public right-of-way to the historic Newport waterfront); Pascoag Reservoir v. RI, 337 F3d 87 (1st Cir. 2003) (successfully defended public access over 360-acre lake); Palazzolo v. RI, 533 US 606 (2001) (major precedent).
Examples of non-litigation matters include: leadership of 12 states in lobbying Congress on global warming; preparation of a training guide on the importation of dogs for the Police Academy; working with the SPCA on legislation to protect animals; without resorting to suit, enforcement of a public right-of-way in Portsmouth; and service on the Derelict & Abandoned Vessel Commission; leadership of the Environmental Crimes Task Force.