The Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI), on behalf of its 70 organizational and individual members representing over 50,000 Rhode Islanders, is calling on Governor Daniel McKee to sign the 2021 Act On Climate bill (H5445A and S0078A) into law. On March 23, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed the Act On Climate with a bipartisan majority (53 – 22) after nearly four hours of debate. Supporters of the bill believe Rhode Island needs to take this critical step in planning for and addressing climate change with science, accountability, and enforceability. The prior week the Rhode Island State Senate also passed the 2021 Act On Climate with overwhelming support, 33 – 4. “It’s now Governor McKee’s turn to show Rhode Islanders that he can lead the Ocean State through the many crises we face, including the climate crisis,” writes ECRI.
Governor McKee threw his support of the bill, as written, into doubt when he sent a a letter to the House Environment Committee that was generally supportive, but asked the committee members to water down the bill’s enforcement provision that makes Rhode Island’s pollution-reduction targets not just aspirational, but mandatory. Governor McKee wrote:
“This letter is to offer commentary with respect to Senate Bill 78 (also referred to herein as the “Bill”), the 2021 Act on Climate. Climate change continues to have widespread impacts on Rhode Island, the United States and the world at large having significant implications not only for all of us today but for generations to come. This administration applauds and strongly supports the goals and objectives of Senate Bill 78 regarding the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Of serious concern, however, is the language contained in Section 46-62-10, ‘Enforcement.’ Section 42-62-10 (e) affords a broad array of parties the right to bring civil action to enforce the law including, ‘The Rhode Island Attorney General, any Rhode Island resident and any Rhode Island corporation, company, organization, nonprofit or other Rhode Island legal entity or organization registered with the Rhode Island secretary of State.’ The preceding list of potential parties’ plaintiff is unduly broad and likely to lead to expensive, protracted and vexatious litigation against the State of Rhode Island. Such litigation will divert resources and attention from pursuing the primary objective of the Bill – the betterment of the State’s environment through the reduction of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Any action to enforce the statute must be limited to the Attorney General of the State of Rhode Island, as the State’s chief law enforcement officer. Any deviation from that standard will result in a diversion of resources and the imposition of unduly burdensome costs on Rhode Island taxpayers through an unnecessary litigation process. The Attorney General is charged with a wide variety of environmental responsibilities under State law. There is no valid reason for deviating from these long-established principles.
“We can achieve bold target levels established under the Bill by working together, promulgating meaningful rules and regulations which reduce emissions, without putting Rhode Island in unnecessary and unproductive legal jeopardy.”
Climate Action Rhode Island notes that the bill’s enforcement provision was carefully crafted to limit frivolous lawsuits while holding future administrations truly accountable. In Massachusetts, which has had enforceable climate targets for 13 years, only one lawsuit was brought (by CLF, and it succeeded). Furthermore, any amendments at this late stage may put the entire bill’s passage in jeopardy.
The Act On Climate is the most important climate bill passed by the General Assembly in Rhode Island history, preceded only by the 2014 Resilient Rhode Island Act, writes ECRI as the organization lobbies the public to support the bill.
“The bill makes greenhouse gas reductions economy-wide, binding and enforceable and consistent with what scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, which our coastal and frontline communities are already experiencing. The accountability provision in the Act On Climate bill updates the Resilient RI Act and gives it teeth. It’s the next simple step for Rhode Island to take,” said Meg Kerr, Senior Director of Policy at Audubon Society of Rhode Island and former President of ECRI.
In an open letter to Governor McKee, members of the Environment Council members expressed the urgent need for decisive climate action:
“We ask that you sign the bill into law as it was passed by the Senate and House and keep the accountability and enforcement measures that would move Rhode Island beyond aspirational targets and position the state as a leader… This legislation, while simple, sets the framework for how the state will address climate change. It is the foundation and framework we need to really reduce emissions and transition to a green economy in an equitable way. Rhode Island needs a solid foundation and comprehensive plan to address the climate crisis, a plan that is economy-wide and enforceable to set us on a path to a just transition to a green & sustainable economy.”
“Massachusetts passed comparable climate legislation with the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act,” said Kai Salem, VP of Policy at ECRI and Policy Coordinator at Green Energy Consumers Alliance. “This bill has kept the Massachusetts government accountable for meeting its climate targets and led to the growth of a nation-leading clean energy economy. But it’s not too late for Rhode Island to shift its lagging action into meaningful leadership and reap the benefits of growing green economy.”
“The people of the Ocean State deserve a firm commitment to facing the climate challenge with transparency, enforcement, and accountability – our health, our environment, and our economy depend on it,” said Jonathan Berard, Rhode Island State Director at Clean Water Action, a member of the Environment Council of RI. “It is not the time for delays or attempts to weaken a good and necessary climate bill. And let’s not ignore that voters want climate action. The vast majority of voters are concerned about climate change and support emission reductions, according to a recent survey.”
Can you help Uprise RI?
Funding for our reporting relies on the generosity of readers like you. Our independence allows us to write stories that hold RI state and local government officials accountable. All of our stories are free and available to everyone. But your support is essential to keeping Steve and Will on the beat, covering the costs of reporting many stories in a single day. If you are able to, please support Uprise RI. Every contribution, big or small is so valuable to us. You provide the motivation and financial support to keep doing what we do. Thank you.
ECRI is calling on Governor McKee to commit to signing the 2021 Act On Climate into law by Earth Day, April 22nd, as written and passed by both the House and Senate. ECRI looks forward to working alongside Governor McKee and his administration to implementing the Act On Climate and delivering a cleaner, healthier future for all Rhode Islanders.
ECRI has provided the following resources to help people let Governor McKee how they feel about the need to pass this bill:
- Contact Governor McKee ASAP. Tell him, “I urge you to sign the 2021 Act On Climate bill as written and passed by the House (H5445A) and the Senate (S0078A). We need your leadership to secure a green & sustainable economy and a healthier state for Rhode Islanders.”
- Call the Governor McKee’s office at 401-222-2080
- Send a message online
- Sign the petition by Climate Action Rhode Island. It takes less than a minute. 1,000 Rhode Islanders have already signed; will you help us surpass 2,000?
The Environment Council of Rhode Island is a coalition of organizations and individuals whose mission is to serve as an effective voice for developing and advocating policies and laws that protect and enhance the environment. www.environmentcouncilri.org