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Attorney General Neronha statement on today's decision in Champlin's v. CRMC

PROVIDENCE, R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha issued the following statement after today's decision in Champlin's v. CRMC:

"Rhode Islanders should be deeply disappointed by today's Superior Court decision and rightly worried about what this decision means for us should it survive its eventual appeal.

Regulatory agencies in Rhode Island have been given extraordinary powers by the General Assembly to make decisions that directly and significantly impact the people of this state. Under long-settled Rhode Island law, this extraordinary grant of power is conditioned on several things, including a requirement that their quasi-judicial decision-making process be transparent and provide for public input, and that every agency decision be supported by specific findings of fact and conclusions of law that objectively justify the decision.

Every Rhode Island regulatory agency must follow these rules, codified in the Administrative Procedures Act. The Coastal Resources Management Council. The Department of Environmental Management. The Department of Health. The Department of Business Regulation. The Public Utilities Commission. And more. Proceeding in this way, and only in this way, ensures merit-based public decision-making, instills public confidence in that decision-making and, in the event of an appeal from the agency decision, allows a reviewing court to know precisely what the regulatory agency did and, most importantly, why.

Today's decision ignores all these things.

In 2011, the CRMC, with public input and full transparency, denied Champlin's effort to expand its Block Island marina. In that decision, the CRMC made all the legally required findings of fact 91 of them and conclusions of law to support its ruling that the proposed marina expansion would unlawfully and negatively impact public safety and the environment. That agency decision was sustained on appeal in Superior Court in 2020.

Today, however, another Superior Court decision by a different judge has inexplicably tossed all the CRMC's original transparent and fact-supported regulatory decision-making out the window and opened the door for its replacement with something the Administrative Procedures Act precisely forbids: a non-public, non-transparent, entirely unsupported mediation. This leaves unanswered whether the "mediated" result allowing a smaller-scale version of the previously rejected marina expansion can stand without a new public evaluation of potential impacts to resources, navigation, and competing uses of the Great Salt Pond. What makes it worse is that the CRMC the agency charged with protecting Rhode Island's natural resources was complicit in the result. The CRMC could have stood up for the people of Rhode Island and defended the initial Superior Court decision, which denied the marina expansion in the Supreme Court. Instead, they bent to expediency and were rolled.

Today's decision is a win for deals constructed behind closed doors while doing the people's business, when the law demands precisely the opposite. But this is not the last battle.

Regardless of the eventual outcome, the people of Rhode Island should remember this day. We should ask ourselves whether, in this space, we can still count on our government to protect what is most precious to us, or whether significant change in how certain regulatory agencies function is needed."

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