Big Week at Statehouse for Several Environmental Bills

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Several noteworthy environmental bills are scheduled to hold their first hearings this week at the Statehouse.

Carbon tax
The heads of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Office of Energy Resources will present an update on the state Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan on March 1 after the full Senate meets.

The Senate Committee on the Environment & Agriculture will hear two bills that promote a statewide carbon tax. Sen. William Conley, D-East Providence, sponsors S108, a bill that asks the state climate commission to examine a carbon-pricing program. Sen. Jeanine Calkin, D-Warwick, sponsors S365, a bill crafted by the Energize Rhode Island coalition, a group that advocates a statewide carbon tax.

Deregulating open space
In the ongoing effort to make it easier to develop open space, a bill has been introduced that requires cities and towns to speed up the process for approving subdivisions and land development.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, requires planners to cut the application approval time from 60 days to 25. Master-plan approval would be cut from six months to three. A provision mandates that applicants receive a 50 percent refund on application fees if a decision hasn't been recorded within 20 days. The Department of Administration has also filed a bill to expedite building permits after declared emergencies and disasters.

Both bills are expected to be heard by the House Committee on Municipal Government on March 2. The hearing starts at the conclusion to the House session.

Diminished EPA
The House Committee on the Environment & Natural Resources will decide on March 2 whether to conduct a study on the local impact of potential rule, policy and funding changes by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now that Scott Pruitt has been conformed as director.

The resolution will look at changes to local efforts that preserve and protect natural resources and enforce current state statutes. If approved, DEM would report its findings by April 20.

Food recovery
The state food-scrap-reduction and compost law is in its second year. The House Committee on Health, Education & Welfare is expected to hear a request to form a 13-member commission to study the law and propose incentives to improve compliance. Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport, sponsors the resolution. The hearing is scheduled for March 1.

Bag ban
A bill enacting a statewide ban on plastic checkout bags is scheduled to be heard March 2 by the House Committee on the Environment & Natural Resources. The committee also is expected to hear a bill that expands recycling and waste-reduction programs to achieve an 80 percent recycling rate by 2020. Both bills are sponsored by Rep. Thomas Winfield, D-Smithfield.

Train track
The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hear a report Feb. 28 from the Federal Railroad Administration on the controversial proposal to modify the Amtrak rail line through Washington County. The meeting is open to the public, but comments will not be permitted.

Electric vehicles
On March 1, the House Finance Committee is expected to review a budget article on a proposed electric-vehicle rebate program.

Renewable energy
The House Finance Committee also is expected hear a $12 million budget request for solar-installation projects at buildings that house the Department of Health, Department of Transportation, and Department of Administration in Providence. The money would also pay for energy-efficiency projects at several state buildings, including the Statehouse.

A request to bury dredging material in the Providence River in so-called confined aquatic dredged material disposal cells is expected to be reviewed March 1 by the House Finance Committee.

Lead abatement
On March 2, the House Finance Committee is scheduled to hear a budget article that seeks to strengthen the state’s lead abatement efforts for housing.