Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Environmental advocates want to pass more bills that help the economy.
At its annual “Lobby Day” event at the Statehouse on April 25 the Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI) and its supporters in the General Assembly promoted several bills that promise to deliver jobs and grow businesses.
Sen. William Conley Jr., D-East Providence, said his colleagues in the General Assembly once thought that protecting the environment was expensive and bad for business.
“We know that is not the case,” he said. “What’s good for the environment is good for Rhode Island’s economy.”
Conley backed the assertion with recent studies from the state Office of Energy Resources showing more than 1,000 companies in the energy-efficiency sector working in Rhode Island — 79 percent of which are local businesses. Since 2008, $489 million has been spent on energy efficiency, adding $2.7 billion in economic production. Some 14,000 workers are employed in Rhode Island’s so-called “green economy.”
Energy efficiency received attention because of House (H7808) and Senate (S2499) bills that seek to limit increases on the charges on electric bills that support energy-efficiency projects. This legislation is one of four bills ECRI opposes. Opponents fear that setting caps on increases will harm businesses in those sectors, increase greenhouse-gas emissions, and increase long-term costs to curtail fossil-fuel use.
The House Corporations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing for the bill on May 1. The Senate bill was heard April 5.
Carbon fee: A tax on all fossil fuels entering the state is also expected to channel money to the energy-efficiency and renewable-energy sectors and pay a dividend to residents and businesses.
Carbon emissions: The Global Warming Solutions Act gives teeth to state carbon dioxide reduction targets of 80 percent by 2050 and interim targets for 2025, 2035 and 2045. Compliance for those targets would be enforced by state offices matched to three sectors with the highest emissions: Office of Energy Resources, power-generation sector; Department of Transportation, vehicle emissions; state Building Commissioner, heating emissions.
Statewide bag ban: Cities and towns across Rhode Island are passing bans on plastic shopping bags and ECRI wants to the seize the momentum by backing a statewide ban. The bill allows retailers to charge a fee for paper and reusable bags. The bill also bans polystyrene (foam) cups and food take-out containers.
Scituate Reservoir: ECRI president Jerry Elmer said the coalition of environmental organizations hasn't taken a stance on a proposal by the city of Providence to sell the Scituate Reservoir. ECRI, however, opposes privatizing the state’s largest water supply. Providence says the water utility is worth between $400 million and $600 million. ECRI says any bills seeking to sell Providence Water must include protection of the forest that surrounds the reservoir.
Environmental bond: The $48.5 million Green Economy and Clean Water Bond received broad support and is included in Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget. The bill earmarks $2 million for open space protection; $2 million for farmland conservation; $5 million for community parks and recreation facilities; $5 million for bikeways; $10 million for state parks; $4 million for brownfield; $6 million for water pollution and drinking water; $5 million for wastewater treatment facilities; and $4 million to repair or remove state-owned dams.
H7699: The bill adds schools to the state compost and food-scrap diversion law.
H7732: Eliminates PFAS, a class of fluorinated organic chemicals, from food packaging.
H7219: A new revolving loan fund that offers low-interest loans and grants for solar projects. The bill hasn't had a hearing.
H7425: A bill that disbands the Smithfield Land Trust. A hearing was held April 5.
H7524: The bill eliminates liability protection for state and municipal land. A hearing was held April 11.