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It took four hours, but Act on Climate RI passed the RI House

The bill passed the House on a slight bipartisan 53-22 vote, as Republicans floated amendment after amendment that were all either voted down or ruled not germane. Republican arguments that the bill would lead to absurdities such as homeowners forced to make unaffordable modifications to their heating systems or Rhode Islanders being forced o become vegans were dismissed by the majority of Representatives.

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After four hours of sometimes heated debate, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed H5445A the 2021 Act on Climate bill that updates Rhode Island’s climate-emission reduction goals and to make them enforceable as outlined in the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014, Under the bill, Rhode Island would develop a plan to reduce all climate emissions from transportation, buildings and heating, and electricity used economywide in the state to 10 percent below 1990 levels this year, 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2040 and net-zero by 2050.

The bill passed the House on a slight bipartisan 53-22 vote, as Republicans floated amendment after amendment that were all either voted down or ruled not germane. Republican arguments that the bill would lead to absurdities such as homeowners forced to make unaffordable modifications to their heating systems or Rhode Islanders being forced to give up meat and become vegan were dismissed by the majority of Representatives.

Here’s the nearly four hours of video:

The one Republican vote in favor of the bill came from freshman Representative Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung (District 15, Cranston), who unseated former House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat) in the last election. Mattiello infamously said, “There’s nothing Rhode Island can do to address climate change in a way that’s real or impactful” in January 2020.

The best critique of the bill came from Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence), who pointed out that the racial justice elements in the bill are weak. Representative Williams argued for strong language that would address racial inequities in our environmental planning, not just words. “Mandate that we are part of it, not just mentioned in it.”

Representative Williams’ critique echoed some of the same points brought up by Sunrise Providence. “…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.”

As the night wore on Republican lawmakers were becoming clearly frustrated that their arguments were falling on deaf ears. Representative Michael Chippendale (Republican, District 40, Coventry, Foster Glocester) rose near the end of the floor debate to say that he had seven more amendments to the bill that he wasn’t even going to bother to introduce (much to the relief of all watching the proceedings) and Minority Leader Blake Filippi (Republican, District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly) rose to say that he was ashamed of the process.

The process lasted so long that the batteries of the iPads the Representatives use to cast their votes were running down, and Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick) suggested that the bill might have to be held until Thursday to continue the discussion. Fortunately, the decision was made to continue the hearing, even if paper ballots had to be used, and the iPads seem to have lasted until the end of the House session.

As Representatives filtered into the Veterans Memorial Auditorium where the Rhode Island House of Representatives has been meeting during the pandemic, they were greeted by a rally of environmentalists outside. Organized by Climate Action Rhode Island (CARI) there were chants, speeches and songs, as well as sign holding and cheers for Representatives who championed the bill. The video of the rally is below.


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The next hurdle for the bill is the desk of Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee. Environmentalists hope that McKee will sign the bill as soon as possible, and upon becoming law, Act on Climate 2021 will be the first real piece of legislation ever passed in Rhode Island with the intent to combat climate change.

Here’s the video the rally outside the House floor vote:

Act on Climate 2021 videos:

Senate Committee Discussion – February 2, 2021:

Senate Committee Vote – March 3, 2021

Senate Floor Vote – March 16, 2021

Carbon reduction bill Act on Climate passes RI Senate, poised to pass House https://upriseri.com/carbon-reduction-bill-act-on-climate-passes-ri-senate-poised-to-pass-house/

House Committee Discussion – February 26, 2021

House Committee Vote – March 18, 2021

House Floor Vote – March 24, 2021

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.

atomicsteve@gmail.com