On Nov. 7, Democrat Gabe Amo and Republican Gerry Leonard will face off in the general election for Rhode Island’s 1st U.S. Congressional District.
The first district, encompassing much of Providence and the east side of the state, is overwhelmingly Democratic. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than three-to-one, and President Joe Biden ran up a margin of nearly 30 points in the 2020 election. Still, the congressional race will require Amo and Leonard to make their case to Rhode Islanders — especially on the issue of climate change, which could have devastating impacts across the state.
Ahead of the election, The Herald spoke with both campaigns to learn more about how their platforms hope to turn both the country and state greener — as well as their thoughts about the Inflation Reduction Act.
Both candidates stressed that addressing climate change is a top priority. “Every one of us wants to make sure that our streets aren't getting flooded, and that we have clean air and clean water,” Leonard said.
Amo will “work tirelessly to bring resources back to the Ocean State,” continue outreach to raise awareness about climate change and “make the state more resilient,” wrote Matt Rauschenbach ’23, Amo’s communications director, in an email to The Herald.
Following the 2021 passage of Rhode Island’s Act on Climate, which established guidelines for more aggressive emission reduction policies, the state has directed its focus on reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
According to Rauschenbach, Amo will encourage “leaders to apply for all available federal funds and grants,” specifically those concerned with “coastal resilience, urban forestry, … public buildings and infrastructure.”
Nationally, Rauschenbach highlighted Amo’s commitment to upholding the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, the first national law offering wide-reaching subsidies for renewable energy and grants for climate adaptation, mitigation and research and development. Amo’s campaign website additionally notes that he will “fight for more legislation at the federal level to combat climate change.”
Amo “will continue to support the administration in its implementation efforts to prove the necessity of maintaining the historic legislation,” Rauschenbach wrote.
Leonard pointed to the IRA as one of a “number of pieces of legislation and acts” that have contributed to inflation which has in turn put middle- and working-class families in Rhode Island in a “rough place.”
The Congressional Budget Office wrote in 2022 that the IRA’s impact on inflation would be “negligible.”
Transitioning to renewable energy in the next 10 to 15 years, Leonard said, is not “practical,” referencing support for an “an all-of-the-above energy policy,” a term that has come to mean a mixture of fossil fuels, nuclear and renewable energy.
Leonard especially pushed for an expansion of nuclear, noting its reliability in comparison with wind and solar.
“I do think we have the energy (from fossil fuels and natural gas) that we ought to be using right now as a bridge to get to where we want to be in the future,” Leonard said, explaining how he believes the United States has the potential to become a “net exporter” of “much cleaner fuel … to generate enough revenue to continue building out a renewable structure.”
Rauschenbach pointed to how Amo will work to support climate justice. Amo would “hold the Biden administration accountable” to meet the goals of the Justice40 Initiative, which mandates that “at least 40% of the benefits of certain federal programs” go to disadvantaged communities to aid in climate-related issues, The Herald previously reported.
“We must ensure that the communities that have been most affected by climate change and pollution, often Black and brown communities, get the resources they need,” Rauschenbach wrote.
Amo also plans to work with community organizations to access available resources and funding from IRA and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s “$2 billion Environmental and Climate Justice Community Change Grant program,” he wrote.
“Every one of us, we need to make sure that we have clean air and clean water,” Leonard said. “The methods we use to get there, I may have different opinions than my opponent this election. … But I think probably the ends are the same.”
Julia Vaz is a Metro editor covering the environment and crime and justice beats. She is a sophomore from Brazil studying Political Science and Literary Arts.