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The Ocean State is small, but when it comes to protecting our air, water, and climate, we punch above our weight. Over the past year, the Rhode Island environmental community won numerous legislative victories and watched the nascent New England offshore wind program begin to be built right here in our state. At this year’s Breakfast of Champions, we will honor the people who are making Rhode Island a national environmental leader.

The 2023 David R. Gerraughty Award goes to Rupert Friday. This award is given to an individual to honor their lifetime environmental impact, and Rupert’s decades of organizing, dating back to his work as a naturalist and environmental educator in the early 1970s, certainly fit the bill. Rupert was the first Executive Director for the Rhode Island Land Trust Council from May 2003 until he retired in July 2021. He also worked on policy as a member of the Environment Council of RI, using his broad knowledge and political acumen to benefit the entire Rhode Island environmental movement. His legacy comes in the form of protected open space including Big River Management Area and Camp Pastore that generations of Rhode Islanders will be able to enjoy as well as increased access to the state’s numerous trails and outdoor recreation opportunities.

Patrick Crowley, Secretary-Treasurer for the RI AFL-CIO, is being awarded Climate Advocate of the Year for his work bringing the labor and environmental communities together to tackle the climate crisis. He helped form and co-leads the Climate Jobs RI coalition of labor and environmental organizations which successfully advocated for Rhode Island’s Act on Climate and our state’s ambitious commitment to achieving 100% renewable energy by 2033. Through the coalition, he continues to advocate for a just transition to an equitable, pro-worker, pro-climate green economy for the working women and men of Rhode Island.

Alex Kuffner, the Providence Journal’s environment reporter, is being awarded for Excellence in Environmental Journalism for his outstanding coverage of Rhode Island’s environmental issues. At a time when local newsrooms are shrinking, our state is lucky to have Kuffner’s detailed stories highlighting the transition to clean energy, covering the passage of legislation regulating PFAS, and investigating Rhode Island’s recycling rate.

Zachary Pinto, the Vice-President of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island Political Action Committee, is being honored as the Emerging Environmental Leader of the Year. Zachary is an 18 year old resident of Pawtucket and a senior at Shea High School. He began his environmental activism journey working with Groundwork RI, and he is being awarded for his work advocating to improve the urban environmental landscape, including protecting and maintaining the urban tree canopy, particularly where Black and Brown people reside. He has most recently been fighting to Save Morley Field, the only youth sports field and public recreational green space in the Pawtucket neighborhood of Woodlawn.

In addition, Clean Water Action is honoring an unprecedented four 2023 Legislative Champions, reflecting the productive 2022 legislative session and the continued environmental focus of the 2023 legislature: Senator Meghan Kallman, Representative Terri Cortvriend, Representative Carol Hagan McEntee, and Representative June Speakman. All of these legislators have been longtime allies to the environmental community. 

Senator Kallman has been leading the charge for better and more equitable transit in Rhode Island, including the new fare-free R-Line. She is also the Senate sponsor of the Comprehensive PFAS Ban Act of 2023. 

Rep. Cortvriend is a leader in the fight against toxic PFAS pollution and led efforts to pass the 2022 ban on PFAS in food packaging. She is also the House sponsor of the Comprehensive PFAS Ban Act of 2023. 

Rep. McEntee is a leader in the fight against plastic pollution and was the lead sponsor of the recently-passed single-use bag ban. She is the lead sponsor this year of the RI ‘Bottle Bill.’ 

Rep. Speakman, another stalwart environmental leader fighting PFAS in RI, led efforts to pass state-level drinking water standards for PFAS. She is leading the charge this year to get PFAS out of firefighting equipment.

All of our Environmental Champions will be honored at our 21st Annual Breakfast of Champions, Friday, May 12th, at the beautiful Aspray Boat House in Warwick. You can help us honor them by becoming a sponsor of the event.