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Editorial & Opinion

Sunrise statement on the 2021 Act on Climate Bill

“…the Act on Climate Bill won’t produce meaningful action on climate change until approximately 2028. We have known about the climate crisis for more than 30 years, and we simply do not have another seven years to delay taking action.”

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Last night, the Rhode Island State Senate held a committee hearing on the Act on Climate bill, so we want to take this opportunity to share our concerns about this legislation. In short, this legislation is an attempt by Senate leadership (yes, it’s being sponsored by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey) to delay serious action on climate and co-opt the grassroots movement for climate justice. 

The bill tasks the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council – a group composed of the heads of various state agencies – with creating a plan to meet Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets. We should note that the bill strengthens our existing emissions reductions goals (which are currently unbelievably unambitious), but even the new goals are inadequate to address the urgency of the climate crisis.

This bill gives the Council until the very last day of 2025 to develop a plan to meet the emissions targets. After developing this plan, it will likely take another two years for state agencies to produce rules and regulations to actually implement the plan. This means that the Act on Climate Bill won’t produce meaningful action on climate change until approximately 2028. We have known about the climate crisis for more than 30 years, and we simply do not have another seven years to delay taking action.

What’s more, this bill only pays lip service to racial justice and a just transition for workers. It does not even attempt to articulate how the state’s plan will address these two issues, choosing instead to leave full discretion on these matters to the agency heads who will be creating the plan. We have seen this play out time and again – we don’t get real justice for low-income Rhode Islanders, BIPOC communities, or workers when these groups aren’t even at the table.

This bill makes it clearer than ever that we need community-driven solutions to the crises we face. That’s why we continue to be inspired by the work that the Renew Rhode Island coalition is doing. The Rescue Rhode Island Act was developed through a year-long process led by a coalition of frontline and Indigenous communities, labor unions, environmental justice advocates, youth groups, and racial justice organizations. It is the beginning of the Green New Deal our state needs, and shows the way forward towards a rapid, equitable, and just decarbonization process.