General Assembly 2017 Environmental Recap: Strong Year for Renewable Energy; Hens Remain Caged

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The General Assembly may meet again this year to complete its unfinished business, including passing a budget for fiscal 2018, but its results in the environmental sector to this point are somewhat lopsided. Nothing passed to alter the course of the proposed Burrillville fossil-fuel power plant, but renewable energy had a strong session, with six bills approved.

Without a budget, funds “scooped” from state agencies to help the general fund — $1 million from the Infrastructure Bank; $5 million from the Narragansett Bay Commission; $12.5 million from energy-efficiency programs — remain in limbo.

Here’s what did and didn't pass during the 2017 session:

AGRICULTURE and AQUACULTURE

Passed
S95/H6296: The Office of Regulatory Reform will support the state’s farm and plant-based industries.
S720/H6345: The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) will enforce the federal Food Safety Modernization Act. The Senate also passed a resolution asking Congress to delay implementing the act.
S785: Creates the new Division of Marine Fisheries Management within DEM.

Didn't pass
H5772: Exempts seed and plants that grow food from state sales tax.

ANIMAL PROTECTIONS

Passed
S928: Improves the standards for sheltering and feeding of dogs.

Didn't pass
H6023: Bans wire battery cages for keeping egg-laying hens.
S390: Defines animal hoarding and adds hoarding to the list of items that define cruelty to animals.

CHEMICALS

Didn't pass
H5905: Requires all cosmetic products to list ingredients.
S166/H5082: Prohibits harmful chemicals from children's products and upholstered furniture.
H6011: Creates a House commission to study geoengineering and chemtrails.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Passed
S108/H6305: Requires the state Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council to study a carbon pricing program.

Didn't pass
S365/H5369: A statewide carbon tax on fossil fuels.
S442/H5808: Creates a 5-cent tax per barrel on petroleum and crude oil to fund a coastal adaptation trust fund. The fund offers grants to cites and towns to fund coastal adaptation projects.
H5042 Requires municipal planning boards to receive training on flooding and sea level rise.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Didn't pass
S632/H5640: Caps the state energy-efficiency program and requires a study of its efficiency.
H6077: Sets minimum energy- and water-use standards for light fixtures, toilets, computers and other products.
S876/H6188: Reverses mandatory decoupling of gas and electric bills.

FOOD and HEALTH

Didn't pass
H5787: Tax on sugary drinks.
H5580: Prohibits the advertising and sale of junk food in schools.

FOOD SCRAP

Passed
H5421: Creates a 13-member commission to study methods for removing food scrap from the waste stream and donating leftover food.

FOSSIL FUELS

Didn't pass
H6184: Prevents electric distribution companies such as National Grid from charging its electric customers for natural-gas projects.

LITTER and RECYCLING

Passed
H5606: Forms a House study commission to look at recycling for multi-unit housing and condominiums. The committee will study anaerobic digesters for recycling food scrap.
S888/H6112: Updates standards for e-waste disposal.

Didn't pass
H5217: Adds yard and political signs on public property to the definition of litter.
H5801: Creates a bottle and container redemption center program.
S109/H5946: Enacts a statewide ban on plastic bags and water bottles and polystyrene packaging.

OPEN SPACE, DEVELOPMENT and FARMLAND

Passed
S481/H5475: Speeds up permitting for subdivisions and new home construction.

Didn't pass
H6172: Changes to Right to Farm laws to allow farms to host weddings, festivals and retail operations even if local laws prohibit them. The legislation was opposed by the Rhode Island Farm Bureau and the Rhode Island Land Trust Council.
S165/S389: Allows the owner of protected open space to sue someone for building on or damaging their property.
S386/H5949: The Rhode Island Land Trust Council opposed a bill that eliminates the liability protection on protected state and municipal properties.
H5461: Funds the state conservation committee.

POLLUTION

Passed
H6055: Changes the air pollution monitoring and reporting at T.F. Green Airport.

POWER PLANT

Didn't pass
S756/H5897: Halts the power-plant application process if the developer doesn't provide information necessary for advisory opinions.
H6051: Increases the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) from three to five members.
S769: Gives more say to municipalities during power-plant siting application process.
H5197: Requires the EFSB to consider environmental impacts and carbon emissions when judging a power-plant application.
S334: Limits the sale of municipal water to customers within the municipality.

REGULATIONS and STANDARDS

Passed
S636/H5609: The Department of Environmental Management increased the amount of a fine, from $2,500 to $5,000, the someone can pay and avoid the hearing process.
S560: Updates rules and regulations for underground fuel tanks.
S784: State park and conservation police will now be referred to as environmental police officers.

Didn't pass
S952/H5427: An expansion of the Green Buildings Act.
H5099: Limits the hours of firework displays.
S475/H5076: Eliminates fees at state parks and beaches.
H5802: Creates an environmental checklist for state construction projects.

RENEWABLE ENERGY

Passed
H5274/S112: The highly regarded Renewable Energy Growth program was given a 10-year extension and an additional 400 megawatts of renewable-energy capacity for solar and wind projects built between 2020 and 2029.
S1007/H5618: Allows schools, hospitals and nonprofits to use net metering for renewable-energy systems.
S880: Adds “benefits” to a Public Utilities Commission study of the costs of a distribution charge for net-metering customers.
S570/H6095: A limit of 20 percent of protected open space or farmland can be used for renewable-energy projects in order for the property to keep its exemption from property taxes.
S562/H5575: Creates a standardized statewide permit for installing solar arrays.
S637/H5483: Determines which interconnection costs are paid for by National Grid and the developer. The legislation also establishes time frames for project applications and construction deadlines.

Didn't pass
S703/H6962: Creates rules for building renewable-energy systems on farms.
H5536: Allows cities and towns to aggregate the local electricity supply, and therefore lower energy costs for residents and allow them to increase their use of renewable energy.
S205: Establishes a residential renewable-energy tax credit.
S641: Offers a carryover tax credit for investing in a residential renewable-energy system.
H5123: Creates a solar energy revolving loan and grant fund for solar businesses.

TRAINING

Passed
H6300: Requires ethics training for new members of the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission.

TRANSPORTATION

Passed
H5241: A bus fare for low-income elderly and disabled riders has been eliminated. It’s unclear how the $5 million subsidy will be funded without the passage of the fiscal 2018 budget.
H5837: Requires the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority to provide open-door service to areas 5 miles within Massachusetts and Connecticut.
H6302: Prohibits parking in an electric vehicle parking spot without charging.

Didn't pass
S214: Offers tax incentives for alternative-fuel infrastructure such as hydrogen, liquefied natural gas, and compressed natural gas.

WATER

Passed
S887: Creates a 15-member Senate commission to review the state Water Resources Board.

Didn't pass
H6122/S810: Creates the Rhode Cooperative Water Authority to replace ProvWater as the owner of the Scituate Reservoir.
H5174: Gives oversight of freshwater lakes, streams and ponds to DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife.