Environmental Groups Set 2015 Priority Issues

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — A statewide ban on plastic shopping bags and more composting are among several key issues being advanced by Rhode Island environmentalists this year.

Last week, the Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI), an advocacy groups for 60-plus environmental groups, announced its legislative priorities on issues of energy, land and water, waste, transportation and the budget.

A bill requiring GMO labeling has already been introduced in the House. The bill died in committee the past two years. Connecticut and Maine have passed similar laws. Neither takes effect until neighboring states enact their own GMO labeling regulations.

In Oregon, a state referendum for GMO labeling lost by fewer than 900 votes last November. Massachusetts refiled its GMO labeling bill Jan. 13. An advocacy group headed by Liberty Goodwin is the lead organization in the Ocean State effort to mandate GMO labeling.

Another ECRI supported priority bill introduced last week, H5079, extends the state's renewable-energy standard (RES), which is the percentage of renewable electricity that comes through our electric sockets. The RES currently mandates utilities to reach 16 percent by 2019. The new legislation would extend the 1.5 percent annual increase until 2035. The lead organizations on this effort are the Conservation law Foundation and the Acadia Center.

Here is a look at other issues and bills ECRI supports in 2015:

Energy
Restore a state tax credit for installing renewable energy for homes. Lead organization: Sierra Club.

Extend a mandate for energy efficiency relating to state energy procurement. Lead organizations: Acadia Center and Conservation Law Foundation.

Waste
A statewide ban on plastic shopping bags died in committee last year. Lead organizations: Environment Rhode Island and Eco Youth United.

Expand the 2014 compost law to include small businesses and residences. Lead organization: Sierra Club.

Enact a take-back program for compact florescent light bulbs. Lead organization: Clean Water Action Rhode Island.

Producer responsibility encourages manufactures to reduce packaging and increase the amount of recyclable and reusable content. Lead organizations: Clean Water Action and Sierra Club.

Land and water
About 25,000 antiquated cesspools are still used in the state and are blamed for beach closings and fish kills. Realtors helped kill the bill last year. Lead organizations: Save The Bay, Aububon Society of Rhode Island and Clean Water Action.

Enact regulations that set standards for wetland buffers and setbacks, and allows state agencies to have greater oversight in enforcement. Lead organizations: Audubon Society, Save The Bay and Rhode Island Land Trust Council.

Increase penalties for cutting trees, stealing stone walls and for intentional damage to protected open space. Lead organizations: Rhode Island Land Trust Council and Audubon Scoiety.

The Community Preservation Act mimics a program in Massachusetts that sets dedicated funding for land conservation, park development and historic preservation. Lead organizations: Rhode Island Land Trust Council and Save The Bay.

ECRI also supports legislation that promotes green infrastructure and improvements to managing stormwater runoff.

Budget
Increase the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) budget so the state agency can meet staffing and enforcement needs. No staff or new funds have been provided to DEM in more than a decade.

Increase the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA) budget to meet additional service needs. Lead organizations: RIPTA Riders Alliance and Sierra Club.