opinion Newport Rhode Island

Around the globe, and in our very own state, we are experiencing the impacts of climate change. Devastating natural events that used to happen once every few decades are happening much more frequently. Communities like ours in Newport are already inundated more regularly and severely by storm surges, and we face the loss of public and private property, historic sites and businesses.

There is scientific consensus that the world must reduce its carbon output to net-zero by the middle of the century to avert a disastrous level of warming and sea rise. This effort is achievable, but will take commitment at every level, including our state and every other.

We are grateful to our General Assembly colleagues, the vast majority of whom supported our Act on Climate, now headed for the governor’s signature. The bill updates Rhode Island’s carbon emissions reduction goals and make them enforceable. Under it, the state will adopt a plan to reduce all carbon emissions from transportation, buildings and heating, and electricity used economywide over time, ultimately moving the state to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Despite being the Ocean State, Rhode Island has not kept up with our neighbors in committing to carbon reduction. This legislation catches our goals up to neighboring states and many others. This is important, because the combined economic power of these states creates the demand for the technology that will achieve the reductions.

Accountability is necessary to reach these goals. This 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 – not politics – and determine the best path forward through a series of public processes. The bill does not require Rhode Islanders to make specific expensive adjustments to their lives.

To guarantee that the state lives up to its commitment, the Act on Climate allows Rhode Islanders to seek action in Superior Court if we’re not meeting our goals outlined in the bill. Provisions like this one are common in environmental law, like the federal Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and in Massachusetts General Law. None of them have led to frivolous surges in litigation. As the state’s lawyer, Attorney General Peter Neronha states that he sees no real concern with this legislation, saying that baseless lawsuits tend to be tossed out of court pretty quickly.

The Act on Climate sends a signal to clean energy companies and investors, as well as the federal government, that Rhode Island is ready to lead in the green economy. With this legislation, we will create the conditions to attract green investments, federal dollars, as well as new businesses at the forefront of the energy transition, positioning our state to grow green jobs, and serve as a center of innovation for the future. At the same time, building the collective demand for green technologies in our region will help force down costs.

Since green energy can be produced right here, this commitment also means we will pivot from sending billions out of state for fossil fuel products to investing that money here at home. Rhode Island is already a leader in offshore wind, renewables and efficiency programs. We will leverage this commitment to create homegrown green jobs, producing clean energy, and creating and installing green technology.

We are proud of landmark legislation, and eager to fulfill this meaningful promise to future generations to ensure a livable and vibrant future.

Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport) and Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) are the sponsors of the 2021 Act on Climate (2021-S 0078A2021-H 5445A).