With final votes in both chambers today, the General Assembly has approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer and Rep. Lauren H. Carson to update Rhode Island’s climate-emission reduction goals and to make them enforceable. The bill now heads to Gov. Daniel McKee.
The 2021 Act on Climate (2021-S 0078A, 2021-H 5445A) will 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 legislation is one of the most influential environmental bills approved by the General Assembly in decades, and its sponsors say it 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 bill requires transparency, public reporting, and – most importantly – it compels the state to involve the public every step of the way. With these targets, the Act on Climate grants flexibility for the state to respond to the latest science and market conditions and determine the best path forward to through a series of public processes. The bill does not require Rhode Islanders to make specific expensive adjustments to their lives.
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.
If the state does not meet its targets and comply with the act, the people of Rhode Island would be able to seek nonmonetary action in Providence Superior Court for compliance.
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 sponsors emphasized that, besides being an imperative for human survival, reducing carbon emissions also creates a wealth of new economic opportunities for Rhode Island – opportunities that the state is already well-positioned to capitalize upon.
According to Commerce Rhode Island, the offshore wind sector will create between 20,000 and 35,000 jobs along the East Coast by 2028. Rhode Island is already developing such jobs through wind companies and educational programs at its universities. President Joe Biden has vowed to double offshore wind production by 2030.
Rhode Island could capitalize upon that commitment and its experience as home to the nation’s first commercial offshore wind farm, while putting thousands of Rhode Islanders to work in the clean energy sector, Senator Euer said.
“Rhode Island has been on the leading edge of offshore wind in the United States, and is also at the forefront of other renewable generation and efficiency programs. With Washington now also pivoting toward support for the important work of adopting clean energy solutions, we have everything we need to do our part to slam the brakes on carbon pollution while revolutionizing our economy at the same time,” said Senator Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown). “Rhode Island was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. We can seize this moment and become America’s leader in the new green economy, creating plentiful green jobs that support families and a clean environment.”
Climate Jobs Rhode Island Urges Governor McKee to Sign the 2021 Act on Climate Bill
Climate Jobs Rhode Island, a coalition of environmental and labor organizations, released the following statement urging Governor McKee to sign the 2021 Act on Climate (S78 SUB A and H5445 SUB A) as passed by the Rhode Island House of Representatives and State Senate.
Climate Jobs Rhode Island understands the importance of the 2021 Act On Climate. The bill legally holds the state accountable to a just transition to a net-zero emission economy, prepares Rhode Island to adapt to a changing climate, and mitigate the impacts of climate change in the Ocean State. We are grateful to Senator Dawn Euer, Representative Lauren Carson, House Majority Leader Christopher Blazejewski, who sponsored and championed the bill for several years. We also applaud the commitment to climate action demonstrated by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi.
“Now is the time for Governor McKee to lead Rhode Island in taking this next critical step to building and sustaining a green economy with the commitment to a just transition for our frontline workers and communities. Our state can choose to become a climate justice leader as we transition to a net-zero emission economy or be a lagger as neighboring states reap the benefits. This bill sets legally binding emission reduction targets that will get us on the necessary path with accountability and enforceability along the way,” said Patrick Crowley, Co-Chair of Climate Jobs Rhode Island and Secretary-Treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO.
“Rhode Island needs to face the climate challenge head-on and tap into the opportunities of transitioning to a green and sustainable economy. There’s a cost to inaction, and our vulnerable Ocean State cannot afford to watch from the sidelines as the federal government is ready to invest in states that have a clear path toward climate action, social and racial justice, and jobs,” said Priscilla De La Cruz, Co-Chair of Climate Jobs Rhode Island and Rhode Island Director of Green Energy Consumers Alliance.
Climate Jobs Rhode Island looks forward to Governor McKee committing to real climate action and clean energy jobs–with not just words or aspirational targets–by signing the Act on Climate bill into law as is. We hope to celebrate with the Governor at a bill signing ceremony on or before Earth Day, April 22nd!
Climate Jobs Rhode Island was formed in 2021 as a coalition of labor and environmental organizations to work together to establish a Just Transition to a Green Economy in Rhode Island. We commit to work together to make Rhode Island a national leader in the development of a 21st Century economy grounded in the principles of economic, environmental, racial and social justice.
To learn more about the coalition, visit www.ClimateJobsRI.org.