R.I. Environment Council Focused on Climate Change

Climate change dominates the 2018 legislative priority list for the Environment Council of Rhode Island. Legislation was released during a Jan. 17 Statehouse event. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Climate change dominates the 2018 legislative priority list for the Environment Council of Rhode Island. Legislation was released during a Jan. 17 Statehouse event. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — A fee on all fossil fuels tops the list of 2018 priority bills recently issued by the Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI).

The bill is one of a number of legislative efforts that address climate change and have the backing of the organization's coalition of advocacy groups and environmentalists. To boost its climate efforts, ECRI will introduce a climate and economic stimulus package, as well as a coastal adaptation trust fund to help cities and towns address sea-level rise.

Renewable energy, a beverage container “bottle bill” and a statewide bag ban also stand out on this year’s list of ECRI-supported legislation.

During the Jan. 17 ECRI Legislative Coffee Hour, state Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Macky McCleary, head of the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, outlined their goals for helping the environment and improving the state’s energy systems.

Carbon tax: ECRI and the EnergizeRI Coalition, an advocacy group with ties to Brown University, back a fee on all fossil fuels assessed at the point of sale or distribution. Money raised by the so-called “carbon tax” are repaid to residents and businesses. The money also finances a revolving loan fund that supports projects for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and climate-change resiliency.

The legislation will go before the General Assembly for a third year. The 2018 version has yet to be introduced, but will include a “trigger clause” that requires Massachusetts and a member state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to also adopt a carbon fee for the legislation to take effect.

Gov. Gina Raimondo has said she supports a carbon tax, but has waffled on backing this bill. Her preference is a comprehensive plan put forward by RGGI states. RGGI is a nine-state power plant emission cap-and-trade program.

The Rhode Island bill will likely be sponsored by Rep. Aaron Regunburg, D-Providence.

Carbon emission reductions: The Rhode Island Global Warming Solutions Act would make mandatory and enforceable the state greenhouse gas-reduction goals, as set by the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014. It also adopts other parts of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008. The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) is the ECRI member organization leading this initiative.

Bottle Bill: Clean Water Action will lead an effort to add a 5-cent refundable deposit on all beverage containers sold in Rhode Island. The bill will be modeled on bottle deposits in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Both states add a 5-cent fee on beer, soda and other so-called fizzy drinks.

Bag ban: Clean Water Action will also attempt to enact a statewide ban on plastic checkout bags. To encourage reusable-bag use, the bill places a fee on paper bags and thick plastic bags. Barrington, Jamestown, Middletown, Newport, and New Shoreham currently have bag bans in Rhode Island.

Environmental enforcement: The entire ECRI membership will oppose legislative efforts to reduce enforcement of environmental rules at the Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council.

Renewable-energy siting: The Office of Energy Resources has yet to adopt statewide rules for building solar and wind-energy projects. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island, Acadia Center, The Nature Conservancy, CLF, Rhode Island Land Trust Council, and U.S. Green Building Council are the lead organizations to address universal siting rules.

Pesticides: Audubon Rhode Island supports a bill allocating $500,000 to the Department of Environmental Management to manage pollinator health and pest management.

Toxins and chemicals in products: Clean Water Action seeks disclosure of fragrances in shampoos, cosmetics, deodorants, and mouthwash, as well as disclosure of all ingredients in cosmetics.

Energy efficiency: The bill requires products sold in Rhode Island to meet minimum standards for electricity and gas consumption. Products include computers, electronics, plumbing products, and food-service equipment. People’s Power & Light is the lead organization.

Open space bond referendum: All ECRI members will help draft and support an estimated $30 million referendum in November for clean water projects and open space protection.

Open space and farms: The Rhode Island Land Trust Council will again take the lead on legislation to stiffen penalties for damage, theft and vandalism to protected lands. Audubon Rhode Island joins the Land Trust Council in opposing changes to the state right-to-farm law that allow farms of 15 acres or larger to host nonagricultural events and activities even if local planning and zoning boards oppose the activities.