Lobbyists Want Heating Oil Biodiesel-Free

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The following is a roundup of the environmental bills heard at the Statehouse this week:

Biodiesel in heating oil. For the second year in a row, Rep. Art Handy, D-Cranston, submitted a bill (pdf) requiring all heating oil in the state contain at least 5 percent of a bio-based product, such as vegetable or animal-based oil; or biomass made from wood, construction debris or algae. The legislation passed the House last year but not in the Senate. The American Petroleum Institute opposes the legislation. The bill was held for further study.

Climate Change Commission. Everyone wants to the state to take action on climate change but few seem interested in leading the effort. Co-chair of the state Climate Change Commission Sen. Josh Miller, D-Cranston, sponsored a bill (pdf) that dissolves the original 28-member board and replaces it with a permanent advisory board that answers to the State Planning Council.

Miller has said the planning council is best suited to oversee the commission. Handy has said the matter is too important to turn over to the planning council. Debate on the bill is expected to intensify in the coming weeks.

Gas and oil. The American Civil Liberties Union opposes a bill (pdf) that would keep information confidential about state oil and gas supplies. Marion Gold, commissioner of the Office of Energy Resources, said the information is needed to keep tabs on fuel shortages during storms such as Hurricane Sandy, when Rhode Island had a shortage of jet fuel. The ACLU argued that the confidentiality of the information is implied in state public access laws. Creating a new exemption creates confusion, according to the ACLU.

Renewable energy. Environmentalists are looking to update the state’s landmark 2011 distributed generation renewable energy law. One of the designers of the bill, Jerry Elmer of the Conservation Law Foundation, told House and Senate committees that the law has accomplished its intent by helping launch utility-scale wind and solar energy projects, while bringing down the cost of renewable energy.

Eighteen projects have been approved so far for the fixed-pricing program. “But the whole project is about to run out,” he said. Elmer advocates for extending the program beyond the end of 2014, when the program is expected to end. The program should be broadened to include hydroelectric energy projects and smaller wind and solar projects. More electricity should also be made available from National Grid to qualify for renewable projects. National Grid said it favors the legislations, but has some amendments.

The New England Clean Energy Council also asked to extend the term of the contracts from 15 to 20 years. The annual 40-megawatt allowance for all projects should be increased to 65 megawatts, according to the council.

Both the House (pdf) and Senate (pdf) bills were held for further study. 

Cap and trade. The state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Office of Energy Resources are seeking up to $300,000 from Rhode Island’s share of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The nine-state cap-and-trade program funds programs for energy efficiency and renewable energy. A portion of the $300,000 would be spent on climate change programs, according to state officials.

The Senate bill (pdf) was held for further study.

Mattresses. Disposal is costly for many cities and towns, as well as residents. The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation charges $10 to dispose of a mattress or box spring. The fee is the same or higher for cities and towns to collect at the curb. Some 35,000 mattresses and box springs are disposed of annually at the Central Landfill. Providence estimates it will spend $252,300 for mattress collection and disposal this year.

A product stewardship bill (pdf) sponsored by Handy would create a collection program run by manufacturers and retailers. The cost for recycling mattresses would be paid by consumers at the time of purchase. The fee has not been determined. “What we’re trying to do is get a shared responsibility here,” Handy said at a March 26 hearing. Nearly all items in mattresses can be recycled. Several states, such as New York, allow the resale of used mattresses.

The legislation is opposed by the Rhode Island Hospitality Association and the International Sleep Products Association. 

Glass at landfill. Matching House (pdf) and Senate bills seek to keep recyclable items out of the state landfill. Rep. Stephen Ucci, D-Johnston, said glass in particular must be kept out. “You can’t just dump it in the landfill. You have to do something with it even if it’s just to give it to someone,” he said. “When people put their bottle in the bin, they expect to be used for something else.”

Ucci said the glass isn’t effective at absorbing odors. He also hopes the bill will bring a glass processor or recycler to the state. On Wednesday, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation’s board of commissioners voted to ship glass out of state for recycling and processing. RIRRC would still like the option of using glass to help maintain the landfill. 

The House bill was held for further study.

Efficiency standards. A bill (pdf) sponsored by Handy requires minimum efficiency standards for double-ended quartz halogen lamps and portable hot tubs. “It’s something that saves consumers money over time with a quick payback,” he said.

The bill was held for further study.