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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fourth time's the charm?

R.I. Climate Change Bill Addresses Mitigation
By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI.org New staff

PROVIDENCE — For the fourth time since 2008, Rep. Art Handy, D-Cranston, is sponsoring a bill that forces Rhode Island to face up to climate change. The legislation, he said, is a wake-up call to the public and lawmakers to reduce both the causes and effects of climate change.

“I don’t want people to forget about Hurricane Sandy, just as we did with the flood of 2010,” Handy said after an April 11 hearing of the House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources.


Handy’s “Rhode Island Energy Independence and Solutions Act” has received mixed reaction. Environmental groups such as the Environment Council of Rhode Island, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and Save The Bay support the bill, while the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is less committed. The Ocean State Tea Party in Action opposes the legislation.

The bill comes at time when the state has kept a low profile addressing climate change, especially compared to issues like the state's response and clean up to Hurricane Sandy. Several initiatives, such as enhanced renewable energy development and energy-efficiency and weatherization programs, are quietly progressing.

So far, the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) has made the most public effort regarding climate change mitigation, most notably with the Beach Special Area Management Plan (Beach SAMP). The multi-year research and planning effort addresses shoreline management issues brought on by sea-level rise, coastal erosion and storm damage.

In a separate bill, the DEM and the Office of Energy Resources (OER) want funds from the regional cap-and-trade program directed toward climate change efforts.

The state Climate Change Commission, which focuses on strategies for adapting to climate change, has advanced the issue publicly, while having internal battles over management of the commission. Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, co-chair of the commission, sponsored a bill to shift oversight of the commission from the General Assembly to the state Office of Statewide Planning.

Handy opposes the proposed shift to Statewide Planning, where he believes climate efforts will atrophy. The lack of successful policy directives has prompted Handy to push his bill. “I’m very motivated,” he said.

The bill, which borrows from legislation in Massachusetts, sets the following goals for Rhode Island:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2024 and cut emissions to 20 percent of 1990 emissions by 2054.
  • Monitoring and annual reports on greenhouse gas emissions.
  • A global warming solutions advisory committee creates a plan for achieving benchmarks.
  • An economic advisory team promotes green jobs and job training.
  • A scientific and technical review committee is created.
  • New legislative/agency measures, rules and regulations that use yet-to-be-defined market-based compliance mechanisms and monetary and non-monetary incentives.
  • Emission reduction methods such as reduced vehicle travel and reduced emission for state construction projects.
At the recent hearing, Handy explained that the funding system in the bill, which focuses on fees from emitters, will likely change. He noted that a bill seeking to divert from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to the DEM and OER could assist with the costs incured by those agencies.

Ocean State Tea Party in Action and DEM both questioned the bill's emission targets.

“In China and India, where half the population exists, they are producing carbon emissions that we have no control over,” said Pam Gencarella of the Ocean State Tea Party, regurgitating a favorite national Tea Party line that ignores the fact that the United States was emiting large quantaties of greenhouse gases long before either India or China. “And Rhode Island? I don’t even know if (emission reductions) would be noticeable relative to the carbon emission generated in China and India.”

Karina Lutz of renewable energy buyer People’s Power & Light said addressing climate change creates jobs, as it has in Massachusetts. “We can’t afford not to do this for many reasons, particularly because adaptation is going to be much more expensive than mitigation," she said.

Will the fourth time around be the charm for Handy? The initial goal, he said, is to remind people that the climate change problem hasn’t gone away. “I’m pretty confident that folks have already forgotten about Sandy,” Handy said.