ecoRI News - ecoRI News staff // #ActOnClimate
With final votes in both chambers April 6, the General Assembly has approved legislation to update Rhode Island’s climate-emission reduction goals and to make them enforceable. Gov. Daniel McKee signed the legislation into law during a bill-signing ceremony April 10 in Newport.
The House approved its Act On Climate bill by a 51-21 vote, and the Senate voted 28-9. The bills were sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Newport, and Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport.
The 2021 Act On Climate bills (S0078 and H5445) 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 legislation, the state would develop a plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from transportation, buildings and heating, and electricity used economy-wide 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’s critical for addressing climate change and ensuring the state is prepared for an economy that will be shifting nationwide and worldwide to adapt to cleaner technology.
“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,” Carson said. “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 it compels the state to involve the public every step of the way. With its climate-emission targets, the legislation 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 doesn’t require Rhode Islanders to make specific expensive adjustments to their lives.
The bill requires 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 and supports 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 the climate crisis.
The legislation also requires the creation of an online public dashboard to annually track emission reductions and sources of energy.
If the state doesn’t meet its targets and comply with the act, the people of Rhode Island would be able to seek non-monetary action in Providence Superior Court for compliance.
Bill supporters have noted that, besides being an imperative for human survival, reducing carbon emissions also creates a wealth of new economic opportunities for Rhode Island.
For example, the offshore wind sector will create between 20,000 and 35,000 jobs along the East Coast by 2028, according to Commerce Rhode Island.
“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,” Euer said. “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.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated April 10.
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