R.I. Passes Environmental Bills in Shortened Session

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The General Assembly’s weeklong bonus session saw the passage of several environmental bills that were nearly approved in June. Here’s what passed last week:

Safe furniture H5082: For years, the chemical industry fought the removal of flame retardants and toxic chemicals from furniture and children’s products such as clothing. But Rhode island will ban the manufacturing and sale of mattresses, electronics and children’s products that exceed the allowance of certain chemical compounds that contain bromide, which is linked to cancer and harmful to fetal and child development. The law takes effect July 1, 2019. Watch video testimony of the Senate hearing here.

Geoengineering H6011: Theories abound about chemical engineering of the atmosphere and the cloudy spray from aircraft, called chemtrails. The legislation makes Rhode Island one of the first states to study the issue. A five-member committee will make recommendations for licensing geoengineering technologies — real or not — such as solar radiation management, ocean fertilization, and cloud cover protection and cloud whitening. The House commission is tasked to report its findings by April 2, 2018.

Wireless microwave networks H5224: Cable and cell phone companies aim to expand their service by installing networks of small wireless neighborhood antennas, known as 5G, to transmit data more quickly. These antennas are mounted on utility poles, buildings and street lights. The networks rely on microwave radiation to move data and that scares some advocacy groups that claim the radiation and the electromagnetic waves are harmful, particularly for people with preexisting conditions. The bill regulates and speeds up the approval process to install the 5G networks of transmitters but doesn't address health risks.

RIPTA S115: The Senate and House approved $5 million to reinstate the discount bus-fare program for low-income elderly and disabled riders. The funds were approved in the budget and last for two years, but the Senate bill establishes a council charged with making recommendations for a permanent funding plan. The council has until Nov. 1, 2018 to make its recommendations.

Pollution monitoring at T.F. Green S767: The Senate bill extends and expands the pollution monitoring at T.F. Green Airport. The bill also requires the Department of Health to release reports on data collected from the monitoring.

Planning for climate change S1005 & H5042: The House and Senate approved bills that require municipal planing board members to undergo training every two years on the effects of sea-level rise and building in floodplains.

Green Buildings Act S952: The House and Senate passed an amendment to the Green Buildings Act that adds public projects such as green infrastructure and built landscapes to the list of pubic projects that must be built to LEED environmental standards.

Right to Farm H6172: There was concern that the Senate would hold hearings for a bill that granted entertainment activities such as weddings and concerts to farms and thereby limit local oversight of these activities. Land conservation groups were also worried that allowing these activities might make it difficult to garner community support to protect farmland. The bill passed the House on June 27, but the Senate didn't take up the bill last week.

PawSox: The General Assembly isn't expected to take up addition bills until January, but may hold hearings in November on funding a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox.