EcoRI News Roundup: Nipping nips and tucking fossil energy

1989 Law Says Nips Are Illegal in RI

The law has gone unenforced for three decades. In fact, few people walking the halls of the Statehouse or working inside the state Department of Environmental Management headquarters on the other side of I-95 even know it exists.

In 1989, the Legislature passed the Beverage Container Recyclability law. It states, among other things, retailers can only sell beverages in containers that “have attained a 50% recycling rate by 1992.”


The 34-year-old law was recently brought to the attention of lawmakers by South Kingstown resident David Flanders. He and fellow Rhode Islanders have spent the past year or so trying to get those ubiquitous 50-milliliter plastic containers containing alcohol – better known as “nips” – banned.

In reality, the sale of nips in Rhode Island has likely been prohibited for the past 31 years. But enforcing the law is a challenge, since no state entity keeps track of beverage container recycling rates.

Plastic bottles that are less than 2 inches tall and 2 inches in diameter, which include most nips, are too small for the Central Landfill’s single-stream recycling sorting equipment to process, according to the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation.

Flanders has sent letters to Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, D-South Kingstown, Rep. Kathleen Fogarty, D-South Kingstown, and the attorney general’s office to remind them of the law. DEM is in charge of enforcement.

Brown Students Want University To Divest From Fossil Fuel Funds

Student activists are turning up the heat on Brown University, demanding the state’s only Ivy League institution divest fossil fuel money from its research grants, ban fossil fuel companies from recruiting events and career fairs, and provide fossil fuel-free retirement plan options for faculty and staff.

Members of Sunrise Brown, the school’s local chapter of the national organization for political action on climate change, organized a rally on campus recently to launch their new DIRE campaign. The campaign, whose name is taken from the first two letters of dissociate and reinvest, calls for university officials to refuse money from fossil fuel companies or related foundations and increase funding support for the city of Providence.

Students also called out other long-standing issues on campus, such as low wages for campus staff, and the gentrifying impact the university has on local neighborhoods, with one speaker calling Brown “an extractive force” in the city.

Organizers zeroed in on a usually wonky issue: the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) payments Brown University pays to PVD annually. Nonprofit institutions, such as the seven colleges and universities sprawled across the city, are traditionally exempt from regular taxes in most circumstances.

Brown pays PVD some $33 million to $34 million annually, a staggeringly low number considering the value of the university’s expanding property portfolio. A 2022 report from the city’s finance department showed that if Brown was taxed at the existing assessed rates, the university would owe more than $49 million.

“Without financial investment, Brown isn’t being a good neighbor,” said one student speaker addressing the crowd last week. “It should invest $50 million or higher into the city of Providence … make its resources available to everyone.”

Report: Region’s PUC’s  Not Ready to Transform Power Grid

A report released in March by a team from Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab (CDL), Synapse Energy Economics, and Climable found New England’s public utilities commissions may not be ready to handle their evolving role as reliance on electricity grows.

Power Play: Actions for New England’s Equitable Energy Transition, which details findings from a dozen workshops CDL held in each New England state, focuses on the work required to address the climate crisis through decarbonization and electrification. A necessary part of ending fossil fuel use will require a growing reliance on electricity and the power grid, according to the report.

“This means we will increasingly be dependent on an electric grid, and as this reliance on electricity grows, the role of the PUC will also become even more critical,” according to the report’s authors. “Their decisions will impact more people in bigger ways. However, PUCs may not [be] ready for their evolving role.”

The report features a quote from Graham Richard, former CEO of the Advanced Energy Economy Institute: “For making our energy system more secure, clean, and affordable, state public utility commissions are the most important institutions most people don’t know anything about.”

Current PUC processes, policies, and practices don’t allow for equitable participation by all stakeholders, according to the report. One barrier to more meaningful participation is language accessibility, as materials and meetings are not translated or interpreted.

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