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Act on Climate bill faces resistance in House Environment Committee



“[I]f states like Rhode Island for example, just say, ‘Oh yeah, you know, we don’t really need to do anything, it doesn’t matter,’ it’s not going to work,” said Amy Moses from CLF. “Every single person, every single state, every single community is part of this problem. And if we want to tackle this global, worldwide emergency, we all really need to step up and participate.”

Public testimony was heard by the House Environmental Committee on on the Act on Climate 2020 bill, H7399. Dozens of people came out to testify for the short, simple bill that would strengthen Rhode Island’s commitment to fighting climate change through the establishment of a statewide greenhouse gas emission reduction mandate. The bill would require Rhode Island to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 100 percent by 2050 and would bring Rhode Island into line with the mandatory, enforceable greenhouse gas emission reductions already in place in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut.

You can read about the bill here:

The testimony began with Representative Christopher Blazejewski (Democrat, District 2, Providence), who introduced the bill, followed by Janet Coit, who heads of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and the Amy Moses, Vice President of Conservation Law Foundation (CLF).

Leading the charge against the bill were two members of the committee, Representatives Robert Phillips (Democrat, District 51, Woonsocket) and Brian Patrick Kennedy (Democrat, District 38, Westerly, Hopkinton), close allies of Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston), who once said there is nothing Rhode Island can do about climate change.

Last year not one bill dealing with climate passed the General Assembly.

Below is all the video, with highlights:

The bill updates the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014, which set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but those goals were unenforceable. Representative Blazejewski noted that this bill also updates the previous bill “in connection with current science” about the speed at which climate change is occurring.

“This legislation will help us to do more to combat climate change,” said RIDEM Director Janet Coit. “I’m here to endorse the goals of the legislation and make some recommendations that I think will improve the bill.”

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“Along with many other groups in the environmental community, this is our number one piece of legislation this year,” said CLF’s Amy Moses.

Representative Kennedy asked Coit about the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), a multi-state effort to reduce transportation emissions. Many New England Governors, including Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo, were enthused about the Initiative, then not. “Is this an end run around that particular piece of legislation?”

Coit responded that this legislation is not an end run, and further, that the Transportation Climate Initiative is not dead, but still under discussion.

Coit took exception to this piece, cited by Kennedy, by Tim Faulkner of ecoRI.

Kennedy then attempted to mischaracterize the legislation and Coit’s testimony, acting as if RIDEM, under this legislation, would be granted authority that would somehow usurp the power’s of the legislature.

Representative Phillips then brought up the fact that a cost benefit analysis is now required by state agencies seeking to promulgate regulations.

Coit pointed out that nothing in the bill would circumvent established rules about regulations or the powers of the legislature versus the power of the executive branch.

Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) asked if communities on the front lines of climate change might have input under this legislation.

Representative Jason Knight (Democrat, District 67, Barrington, Warren) expressed his “full support of the bill,” but did have some changes he wanted to make.

A question from Representative John Lyle Jr (Republican, District 46, Lincoln).

A question from Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett):

Somehow Representative Kennedy misunderstood the answer Amy Mose gave to Representative Knight in Video 7 above. After Moses re-explained her answered, Kennedy made a short spiel:

“It is not the State of Rhode Island, per se, that is producing all of this pollution,” said Kennedy. “so unless the industrial states like Ohio, and Illinois and Pennsylvania do something to take action on climate change, all we’re doing is forcing the people here to have pain and perhaps higher bills in the form of taxes if in fact they’re not doing anything and we are doing something.”

The response Moses gave earned her applause from those in the room.

“Everyone needs to step up and do something. We’re all in this together and there are some huge benefits to us getting out and addressing climate change, air pollution, healthcare costs,” said Moses. “We’ve got the offshore wind farm. Having a clean economy actually helps create jobs. So if states like Rhode Island for example, just say ‘Oh yeah, you know, we don’t really need to do anything. It doesn’t matter,’ it’s not going to work. Every single person, every single state, every single community is part of this problem. And if we want to tackle this global, worldwide emergency, we all really need to step up and participate.

“We all have a responsibility,” continued Moses. “Unfortunately, the federal government is not taking leadership on this right now, which is why states and states working together, and countries around the world, are stepping up. So it is unfortunate that there may be some people who don’t take swift action, but that is not an excuse for us just to sit back.”

A question from Representative Kennedy about the way we measure emissions. Coit defends the way we determine emissions in the state, but it is a larger, more complex issue. See: How to economically account for CO2 a central question during EFSB Invenergy hearings for more.

Not counting Representatives Kennedy and Phillips, only two people showed up in person to testify against the bill, both representing business interests. Other business interests sent in written comments or testified via more arcane means. See: Business interests can now anonymously testify by text before House Committees?

First up is Douglas Gablinske, a former member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives who has been consistently wrong about energy policy in Rhode Island for years. s recently as June of last year Gablinske predicted higher energy prices due to the failure of Invenergy to get their power plant approved. Power prices continue to drop annually.

Lennette Forry-Menard, who readers might remember for her consistent testimony against raising the minimum wage and other bills that might benefit low-wage Rhode Island workers, arrived at the committee a few minutes after Representative Phillips texted her back. She then proceeded to testify against the climate bill on behalf of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce (which pays her $3k monthly), the Rhode Island Mortgage Bankers Association (which pays her $25k annually), and one more group she said she was unable to remember. (Perhaps it was the American Petroleum Institute, who pays her $5,160 per month to lobby against environmental initiatives or the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association that pays her $3166 per month for similar services.)

Representative Kennedy commented favorably on Gablinske’s testimony.

The rest of the hearing consisted of people testifying in favor of the legislation.

What this shows is that there is a deep desire in Rhode Island for action on climate, and that the only real opposition to this action is from business interests vested in business as usual, and the politicians they influence.

Here is the rest of those testifying on this legislation:

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.