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Saturday, May 26, 2012

State enviro bills starting to move

Senate Committee OKs Paint Collection, Sea Walls
By TIM FAULKNER/ News staff

PROVIDENCE — Three major environmental bills recently made it out of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources. Other controversial bills were delayed a week. 

Paint can collection. The first producer responsibility bill (pdf) to pass out of committee this year establishes a collection program for leftover paint. If signed into law, paint stores will offer a paint drop-off service for unwanted oil-based and latex paints, beginning in 2014. [editor’s note: Charlestown’s Rep. Donna Walsh is the sponsor of the House version. The General Assembly’s target date for adjournment is June 8].

In 2009, Oregon became the first state to launch a paint stewardship program. Similar laws have passed in California and Connecticut. Laws also are pending in Vermont and Massachusetts.

Oregon funds its program by assessing fees of 35 cents a quart and 75 cents a gallon on new paint purchases. The fees are paid to a third party, which runs a recycling and disposal system for the paints. The added cost for Rhode Island paint purchases would be determined by the third party and approved by the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

Such a collection program is expected to cut costs for the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), which annually collects 92,000 gallons of leftover paint and related products at a cost of about $175,000. RIRRC said the proposed new collection program would be less expensive than current disposal costs for paint contractors. The current Eco-Depot program would be expanded to allow contractor collection.

"It makes it easier to for people to do the right thing," said Nicole Poepping of the DEM.

The bill was opposed by the Rhode Island Builders Association, Rhode Island Lumber & Building Materials Association and the Associated Builders and Contractors Rhode Island Chapter.

Paint shop owner John McKenna said the price of paint is already going up due to higher costs for raw materials. "I can't afford to add another tax to my gallons of paint," he said.

Matunuck storm wall. A bill (pdf) mandating that the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) look at both "hard" and "soft" beach protection measures was approved by the Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture. 

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and Save The Bay both spoke against the measure. Save The Bay approved of CRMC's May 8 decision to allow construction of a 202-foot-long sheet-pile wall to protect a road from erosion. CLF opposed approval of that wall.

Both organizations were surprised that the term "hard" beach protection measures was added to the bill since the issue was last debated.

"There is a slippery police slope there," said Tricia Jedele of CLF Rhode Island. Jedele suggested greater legislative review before setting a precedent on CRMC's authority to consider certain manmade responses to natural erosion of oceanfront regions.

Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, who represents Matunuck, said she sponsored the bill so that building can commence before the Ocean SAMP is completed, when it "might be too late." 

Caging livestock. The Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture approved a bill (pdf) setting restrictions on "crating" veal calves. A new version of the bill removed a jail term for violations and banned gestation crates. "We are absolutely in support of legislation that allows farm animals to stand up and turn around," said Matthew Dominguez of the Humane Society of the United State.

"We eat these animals. Why do they have to be tortured in a crate?" said Denise Melucci, a farmer from Foster.

The bill must also be approved in the House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources.

Tiverton wind project. The East Bay Energy Consortium (EBEC) has stepped away from its controversial plan to seek the power of eminent domain for its proposed multi-turbine wind project in the Tiverton Industrial Park.

Instead, a revised bill (pdf) would make EBEC part of the state Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The nine-community alliance sought the eminent domain power as part of its plan to establish EBEC as a quasi-government agency. EBEC leaders insisted that the eminent domain clause was never intended to acquire land but needed in order to issue municipal bonds to fund the $40 million-plus project.

The new version of the bill would incorporate EBEC into the EDC. A Senate hearing on the revised bill will be held during the week of May 28.

Zoning regulations. A bill (pdf) to ease zoning regulations for home builders was held for further study. The bill allows restricted building areas such as slopes and wetlands to be included in determining lot size. Four members of the Rhode Island Builders Association testified that easing the rules for minimum lot sizes would improve the 20 percent unemployment rate for construction workers.

"We're going to get away from the most land regulated state in the country," said John Marcantonio, executive director of the association.

Nancy Letendre of the American Planners Association Rhode Island opposed the bill, saying it would go against the state's land-use master plan. "The proposed legislation proposes sprawl," she said.
A revised version of the bill will be heard during the week of May 28.