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RI General Assembly passes 2021 Act on Climate

With final votes in both chambers today, the General Assembly has approved legislation 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 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 Sen. Dawn Euer and Rep. Lauren H. Carson 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.”

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