By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Several key environmental bills are on the cusp of passing or running out of time as the General Assembly draws to a close for the summer.
Development. A bill that speeds up new home construction and development is moving swiftly through the General Assembly.
On June 7, the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government approved its version of the bill (S481). The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill June 14.
The House recently passed its bill (H5475A), 67-6. The legislation was opposed by Reps. Blake Filippi, R-Charlestown, Antonio Giarusso, R-East Greenwich, Jason Knight, D-Barrington, Carol Hagan McEntee, D-South Kingstown, Robert Quattrocchi, R-Scituate, and Sherry Roberts, R-West Greenwich.
Only one of the bills has to pass through both chambers of the General Assembly for it to head to the governor’s desk. If approved, the new rules would take effect immediately.
The bills were filed at the request of the Rhode Island Builders Association, an advocacy group for new home construction. The legislation is opposed by municipal planning and zoning officials who say the reduced approval times will require extra staff and money. Grow Smart Rhode Island and the Rhode Island League of Cites and Towns also oppose the bills.
Burrillville power plant. On June 13, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear a bill (S756) that halts the proposed power plant if the applicant fails to provide information to a state or local entity writing an advisory opinion on the project. Six agencies have said Invernegy Thermal Development LLC hasn't offered the information to fully complete the reports that are relied on by the state Energy Facilities Siting Board, the entity deciding the fate of the project.
A similar House bill (H5897) is still before the House Corporations Committee.
Battery cages. The ban on the use of small, wire cages for egg-laying hens has been held up for several years by the state’s largest egg farm and battery-cage user, Little Rhody Farms.
A modified bill (H6023), however, was approved, 11-3, by the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on June 8. The full House is expected to vote on the bill June 15. If approved, the bill must advance through the Senate. Similar legislation has passed in the House in previous years but died in the Senate.
The 2017 bill adds battery cages to the 2012 law that banned gestation crates for pigs and veal crates. The battery-cage ban would take effect in 2022.
Private papers. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote June 13 on a Senate bill (S177) that would shield public university professors from turning over notes, drafts and working papers from public information requests. Professors say it saves time collecting reams of information. The data, they say, may be taken out of context to aid climate change-denial groups.
A House version of the bill (H5098) has already passed the full House and the Senate Judiciary Committee. It awaits a full vote by the Senate.
Underground fossil-fuel tanks (S560, H5481). For several years, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has attempted to amend the funding and oversight of the program for replacing and cleaning up after leaking underground fuel-storage tanks. The Senate is expected to vote on its bill June 14. The House passed its bill March 31.
Hunting enforcement (S784, H5480). The legislation transfers enforcement of hunting on public lands from park police and conservation officers to DEM environmental police officers. The Senate is scheduled to vote on its bill June 14. The House bill was passed March 28. It passed out of committee in the Senate on June 7 and awaits a vote in the Senate.
New Division of Marine Fisheries (S785). The bill carves out a new Division of Marine Fisheries from the Division of Fish and Wildlife within DEM. The new entity would oversee the state’s growing aquaculture programs, commercial fishing licensing and catch limits. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill June 14.
State solar application (H5575, S562). A statewide solar energy permit application will be drafted and overseen by the state Office of Energy Resources. The Senate version of the bill has been approved by the House Committee on Municipal Government, and the full House is expected to vote on the bill June 14. The Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture approved the House bill June 7.
Interconnection (S637). After a three-year fight between National Grid and renewable-energy developers, the terms have been set over who pays certain costs to connect a large renewable-energy project to the power grid. It also sets time limits for when interconnection work must be approved and completed. The full Senate is scheduled to vote June 14 on the bill.