ecoRI News - ecoRI News staff // #ActOnClimate
By ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Senate, on March 16, passed, by a vote of 33-4, the 2021 Act On Climate, the first major climate and environmental bill to see a floor vote since the Resilient Rhode Island Act 2014. The bill sets mandatory and enforceable targets for greenhouse-gas emissions.
The bill, according to climate activists and many lawmakers, is a long-overdue update to the 7-year-old Resilient Rhode Island Act. It revises emission-reduction targets according to the latest science, improves transparency, and adds accountability to ensure Rhode Island’s climate goals are met during the next 30 years. Proponents also note that the legislation centers equity and justice in the state’s plans for reducing emissions and building climate resilience.
On March 18, the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, by a bipartisan vote of 13-2, approved its version of the Act On Climate bill. It’s expected to pass the full House when it comes to the floor March 23. There are no major differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. If one of the versions is approved by both chambers, the bill would move to the governor’s desk to be signed, vetoed, or ignored.
“The Act On Climate bill provides Rhode Island with the necessary foundation to support the state’s rapid transition away from fossil fuels and to a green economy,” said Meg Kerr, senior director of policy at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. “We’re especially pleased with the accountability and transparency built into the bill so all Rhode Islanders can see the state’s progress and hold our leaders accountable.”
Rhode Island is experiencing more warming than any other state in the contiguous United States. Ocean warming is starting to hurt the region’s marine industries, and communities across the state are at risk of flooding and extreme weather. The impacts of climate change most severely harm frontline communities and those who have historically borne environmental injustice.
“The best time for our leaders to have acted on climate was twenty years ago, but the second-best time is now, to paraphrase an old proverb,” said Johnathan Berard, Rhode Island director of Clean Water Action. “It took many years for advocates, champions in the General Assembly, and tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders to build the support needed to pass this monumental legislation. When this bill becomes law, we will finally have the framework in place to meaningfully and equitably address the climate crisis — then the real hard work begins.”
The 2020 version of the Act On Climate bill had significant momentum before the coronavirus pandemic ended the General Assembly session prematurely.
New language in this year’s bill calls for the transition to a cleaner energy future to be just and equitable. A just and equitable transition means replacing fossil-fuel-based jobs with renewable-energy jobs that pay prevailing wage; delivering renewable energy at lower cost to families and businesses; and investing in reliable transit service that connects essential workers and other working people to economic opportunities.
The bill also calls for the inclusion of environmental-justice populations and a process for environmental-justice communities to provide input on concrete plans. The mandated plans would identify support for workers in the transition and the development of programs to recruit, train, and retain women, people of color, Indigenous people, veterans, formerly incarcerated people, and people living with disabilities in jobs related to a cleaner energy economy.
“It’s time to take climate action. The climate crisis is here along with the existing racial and economic inequities and environmental injustices that have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Priscilla De La Cruz, president of the Environment Council of Rhode Island.
This article was updated March 19.
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