Rhode Island State House

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The House of Representatives today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Lauren H. Carson to update Rhode Island’s climate-emission reduction goals and to make them enforceable.

The 2021 Act on Climate (2021-H 5445A) would make the state’s climate goals outlined in the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014 more ambitious and updated with current science. Under the bill, the state would develop a plan to reduce all climate emissions from transportation, buildings and heating, and electricity used economywide in the state to 10 percent below 1990 levels this year, 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2040 and net-zero by 2050.

The bill now goes to Senate, which last week approved identical legislation (2021-S 0078A) sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown).

The sponsor said the bill is likely the most important environmental legislation to emerge from the General Assembly in the last 25 years, and is critical for addressing climate change and ensuring the state is prepared for an economy that will be shifting nationwide and worldwide to adapt to clean technology.

“The Act on Climate is a meaningful promise to our children that we will not continue destroying the earth they are inheriting. It lays the groundwork for long-range planning, committing to a practical, 30-year strategy for winding down carbon pollution alongside the rest of the developed world and embracing the new, cleaner technologies that become more effective, available and affordable each year,” said Representative Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport). “The benchmarks in this bill align with the goals agreed to by world powers — including the United States, at that time — in the Paris Agreement. The Ocean State, which is already suffering from flooding as a result of rising seas, must be part of the important planning to stop disastrous global warming. Taking these steps will help us demand industrial change, capture federal funding and help Rhode Island emerge as a world leader in the explosively expanding green economy.”

The act would require the state’s Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council to update its plan for carbon reduction every five years, and include in it measures to provide for an equitable transition that addresses environmental injustices and public health inequities, as well as supports to ensure strong and fair employment as fossil-fuel industry jobs are replaced by green energy jobs. It also adds food security as an element to consider as the state continues to evaluate its plans to address climate change.

The act also requires the creation of an online transparent public dashboard to track emissions reductions and sources of energy annually.

After 2025, if the state does not meet its targets and comply with the act, the people of Rhode Island would be able to seek action in Providence Superior Court.

Under the existing Resilient Rhode Island law, the state can reduce emissions by offering market-based mechanisms, expanding financing and investment tools, modernizing the electric grid and improving incentives for combined heat and power systems.

The bill passed the House on a 53-22 vote and was strongly supported by the chamber’s Democratic leadership, including House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi.

“According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the last seven years have been the warmest seven years in recorded history.  My home city of Warwick has 39 miles of coastline and about $200 million of commercial and residential property located in special flood hazard areas; we are already seeing the impact of sea rise caused by climate change, and we need to act now. This legislation requires the state to create an enforceable plan to reduce emissions to levels that will help us avoid the worst consequences of rising temperatures and sea levels.  It also increases accountability and transparency by requiring public metrics for monitoring emissions reductions and a robust process for public participation and input,” said Speaker Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick).

Said House Majority Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence), who sponsored the bill last year, “Climate change is already happening. This legislation puts a framework in place for our state to reduce carbon emissions to net zero, and it does so with equity and with space for input from communities most impacted. Additionally, this legislation will create jobs and opportunities in the green economy – a mindset we as a state must embrace to remain competitive and sustainable. I have advocated for meaningful legislation to address climate change since taking office, and am incredibly proud to see the Act on Climate headed toward passage.”

Representative Carson pointed out that the bill does not make any specific changes or require anything of businesses, property owners or drivers.

“This bill is long-range planning, a broad commitment that the state will be part of the worldwide effort in the coming decades to adopt clean energy policies and encourage the production and use of green technology. Nothing in it requires anyone replace their home heating system, for example. Our commitment creates the demand from industry, and will result in more green technology becoming the affordable choice for consumers,” said Representative Carson.

Source: Rhode Island General Assembly