Gov. Chafee Signs Climate-Change Bill Into Law

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

NORTH KINGSTON, R.I. — On a picture-perfect summer day free of the impacts of a changing climate — high heat, excessive rain and flooding — Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed into law the state’s comprehensive climate-change legislation.

The Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014 continues what Chafee started in February, a fast-acting committee of department and agency heads looking to prepare state organizations and municipalities for the impacts of climate change.

The group also intends to mitigate those impacts by reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Its ultimate target is an 80 percent reduction of 1990 emission levels by 2050.

“We are not debating climate change; we are focusing on what we can do about it,” Jamia McDonald, head of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and vice chair of the nine-member climate-change council, said during the Aug. 1 signing of the bill.

Dubbed the “king of climate change” by Chafee, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., touched on the fact that the legislation had few detractors.

“Oh, how sweet it is to be home and not with people who are denying that (climate change) is happening,” Whitehouse said.

In fact, the only vocal critics of the legislation were environmentalists who wanted more aggressive benchmarks. (The Oil Heat Institute of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Association of Realtors opposed the initial version of the bill.) The final bill, however, did include enhanced emission reduction targets as well as two advisory boards sought by the environmental community.

This first version of the bill, crafted by consultants, and students and faculty from Brown University, wasn't the version signed into law. Yet, the ultimate bill did get Brown’s support, as well as from a student group, Resilient Rhode Island. The legislation also emphasizes seeking input from Rhode Island colleges and universities.

University of Rhode Island President David Dooley said the school would continue to support research and help make Rhode Island more resilient and safer. “And we would ignore that, I think, at our own peril," he said.

Sen. William J. Conley Jr., D-East Providence, was recognized for sponsoring the bill, one of two significant environmental bills he has helped pass during his first term in office. He noted that taking on climate change has many benefits. “What’s good for the environment is good for the economy,” Conley said.

The Executive Climate Change Commission plans to meet later this month.