With a change of leadership in the House of Representatives and a new wave of progressive lawmakers in the Senate, the opportunity to pass serious climate laws in Rhode Island is better this year than in a very long time. CARI’s Legislative Interest Group sifted through a huge number of environmental bills and picked 9 to focus our energy on. The 9 bills divide into three groups: (1) bills to phase out fossil fuels, (2) the Green New Deal-inspired “Rescue RI” bills, and (3) climate education bills.

Read our endorsement statements below, and subscribe to the CARI newsletter to be informed of opportunities to advocate for them!

1. Bills to Phase Out Fossil Fuels

CARI enthusiastically endorses the following package of climate bills that will gradually phase out Rhode Island’s use of fossil fuels:

  • H5445/S78: Act On Climate
  • H5762/S629: 100% Renewable Electricity by 2030
  • H5108: 100% Renewable Electricity, Heat, and Transport for RI State Govt.
  • H5279/S127: Energy Facility Siting Must Respect Act On Climate Targets

These four science-based, target-setting climate bills are at the heart of CARI’s mission. These bills articulate a clear timeline for a transition to 100% renewables; support green jobs; provide accountability; and help build a socially and economically sustainable future for Rhode Island.  

Act On Climate

First, we are thrilled to announce that our first endorsed bill, 2021 Act on Climate, has officially passed both the House and the Senate with overwhelming and bipartisan votes in both chambers! This bill establishes enforceable climate emission reduction targets for Rhode Island that are in line with our neighboring states and accepted climate science. We look forward to Governor McKee signing this legislation into law. Learn more about the bill in our House action alert and the CLF/Audubon fact sheet.

100% Renewable Electricity by 2030

Next is an essential companion to the Act On Climate bill. Act On Climate reduces our carbon pollution across all sectors (electricity, transportation, and heating) to net zero by 2050. The most immediate part of that transition is in the electricity sector. That’s why CARI endorses the Renewable Energy Standard bill, also known as 100% Renewable Electricity by 2030. This ambitious-sounding target is well within reach; in fact, National Grid was already on track to reach 82% renewables by 2030, and Former Gov. Raimondo already committed the state via executive action to bridge that gap and reach 100%. This bill reaffirms that commitment through legislation, using our already established Renewable Energy Standard. The result will be job creation, cheaper homegrown energy, and cleaner air for Rhode Island while ratcheting down our contribution to global warming. With Senate President Ruggerio as lead sponsor, this bill has a great chance of passage in that chamber; we intend to ensure it passes the House as well.

State Government Energy Use and Energy Facility Siting

Lastly, CARI endorses two more bills that complement and reinforce the above two.

H5108, sponsored by Rep. Knight, will accelerate the state government’s own internal transition to 100% renewable energy by 2032. This timetable—18 years faster than the Act On Climate net-zero target—allows the state government to “lead by example” in showing how businesses can meet their electricity, transportation, and heating needs without polluting.

H5279/S127 is a tiny amendment to the Energy Facility Siting Act that’s so common-sensical that it’s shocking it’s not already included. It simply says that new energy facilities in the state must be compatible with the state’s emission-reduction goals. Community groups have had to spend inordinate amounts of time and effort opposing fossil-fuel plants that would wreck our climate targets; this bill ensures regulators can’t brush aside those concerns. CARI will work to ensure this simple but necessary provision gets the attention it needs to pass.

In sum, CARI applauds our legislators for putting forth these four important bills, which provide clear pathways toward a sustainable energy system for Rhode Island. We can’t wait to see them signed into law.

 

2. Rescue Rhode Island Bills

CARI is excited to endorse the Rescue Rhode Island package of legislation: the Green Justice Zone Act, Housing Construction Act, and Food Security and Agriculture Jobs Act.

The previously discussed fossil-fuel phaseout bills endorsed by CARI, including Act On Climate, are technical and target-driven. Commissions are created, principles are articulated, metrics are set. Such bills are hugely consequential for establishing a policy framework that respects science and mandates a transition to a clean energy system, and CARI supports them fully. But they leave a void in terms of specifying the course that the energy transition will take and how it will directly impact Rhode Islanders’ daily lives.

The Rescue Rhode Island package steps boldly into that void. The Renew RI coalition that authored these bills asked: what do Rhode Islanders, particularly our most vulnerable communities who have suffered the greatest environmental and racial injustices throughout our history, really need in order to improve their daily lives? And how can we help meet those needs while at the same time reducing carbon emissions and moving to a sustainable energy system?

A wide range of community groups, who are regularly excluded from policy-making — those who work in racial justice, labor organizing, environmental causes, youth advocacy, food access, and many other issues — came together to answer these questions. They made clear what their communities most urgently need: clean air and water, good jobs, affordable housing, and healthy food. Not coincidentally, those needs align completely with a clean energy transition. Translating those needs into policy resulted in the Rescue Rhode Island package of three bills: a Green Justice Zone bill to redress the abysmal and environmentally racist conditions in the Port of Providence, as a pilot that will be replicated in other environmental sacrifice zones around the state; a Housing Construction bill to create jobs by building solar power and good-quality affordable housing across Rhode Island; and an Agriculture Jobs bills to address food insecurity through regenerative community farming.

This is a new way of writing climate legislation: starting not from abstract goals, but from people’s concrete needs. CARI believes both approaches are necessary. No one bill will solve the climate crisis on its own: we need a diversity of approaches, a diversity of tactics, and a diversity of voices at the table to address the root causes of the crisis. The Rescue RI Acts build on work that’s been done by communities for many years, and chart a path to societal, economic, and political transformation. CARI is excited to support their passage.

 

3. Climate Education Bills

The climate crisis is already upon us, but its impacts will be felt more severely by our children and theirs. To protect them, we must not only reduce the carbon pollution we’re burdening them with, but also educate them about the challenge they’ll be facing for their entire lives. CARI endorses two bills that will support that effort.

Climate Literacy Act (H5625/S0464)

This bill would ensure that all students attending public schools in RI would become environmentally and climate literate by the time they graduate from twelfth grade.

While many RI teachers do already include climate change in their lessons, many others do not have the materials or expertise to do so. Polls indicate that 76% of Rhode Island parents, and nationally 86% of teachers, feel that climate change should be taught in public schools.

This bill, championed by Rep. Cortvriend, would specifically do the following:

  • Direct the RI Department of Education to develop a set of key principles and concepts to be infused in science, civics and social studies classes. RIDE, in consultation with the informal climate education community, teachers, principals and superintendents, 
  • Direct RIDEM to identify and disseminate lessons, materials and professional development to equip teachers to effectively deliver the concepts of climate change.
  • Prepare our young people to become engaged citizens and meaningful members of our work force addressing the challenges of our changing world.

This bill is endorsed by the National Education Association of RI, RI Environmental Education Association, the Audubon Society of RI, Save the Bay… and now Climate Action RI as well.

 

School Waste Recycling and Composting (H5328/S104)

CARI has recently learned from Hope’s Harvest RI about the climate impact of food waste. With this bill, Rhode Island has a chance to do something about food waste while helping to educate our kids about environmental sustainability at the same time.

This bill will get educational institutions to recycle their recyclables (as already required in theory, but often not in practice), to donate unspoiled food, and to compost food waste if they are within 15 miles of a composting facility. Currently, the majority of public schools do not separate their waste and everything is sent indiscriminately to the landfill. In South Kingstown, for example, the school district generates about 39 tons of organic waste in a pre-pandemic year and is within 10 miles of Earth Care Farm. This farm has plenty of capacity for (and is looking forward to) receiving more organic waste!

This bill benefits Rhode Island by: reducing waste; providing environmental education as kids take part in reducing waste; increasing food donation; incentivizing the growth of local composting businesses; generating jobs; curbing potent methane emissions; and capturing carbon by composting to create fertile soil for food production.

 

Links to Endorsed Bills

BILL NAME SUMMARY DESCRIPTION SENATE # /HOUSE #
2021 ACT ON CLIMATE
Establishes a statewide greenhouse gas emission reduction mandate.)
S-0078 Sub A
H 5445 Sub A
ENERGY SITING
Requires carbon-emissions-reduction goals be considered in energy plant siting proceedings
S 0127
H 5279
RENEWABLE ENERGY STANDARD [100% renewable electricity by 2030]
Sets forth new renewable energy standards
S 0629
H 5762
STATE PURCHASES [100% renewable cross-sector]
Requires the state, including all its agencies and departments, to purchase one hundred percent (100%) of their energy needs from renewable sources by January 1, 2032
H 5108
[Rescue RI] THE GREEN JUSTICE ZONE ACT
Establishes the first Green Justice Zone, a model that may be replicated in future years to ensure that all communities throughout the state have clean air and clean water.
S 0540
H 5674
[Rescue RI] HOUSING CONSTRUCTION
Creates the housing jobs department and a series of other initiatives designed to create jobs in housing construction, specifically affordable and low-income housing, green and solar energy jobs and programs for low-income individuals.
S 0219
H 6074
[Rescue RI] FOOD SECURITY AND AGRICULTURE JOBS
Protects food security and creates agricultural jobs and opportunities with the goal of creating food security. Employs several mechanisms to do so, including the creation of the agriculture jobs bureau, to be located within the division of agriculture
S 0468
H 5955
THE CLIMATE LITERACY ACT
Implements literacy of climate change for all students enrolled in public schools or other schools managed and controlled by the state in kindergarten through twelve (K-12)
S 0464
H 5625
SCHOOL WASTE RECYCLING AND REFUSE DISPOSAL
Requires schools to comply with recycling and composting laws and promotes the donation of unspoiled nonperishable food by schools. Requires the use of share tables at all schools.
S 0104
H 5328
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