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Thursday, April 27, 2017

No to fossil fuel, yes to green energy and more

By Steve Ahlquist in Rhode Island’s Future

The Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI) and its president, Jerry Elmer, celebrated Earth Day at the State House with their annual lobby day. 

Over the course of a short presentation Elmer outlined the four bills that will be the legislative priorities of ECRI. ECRI also invited Governor Gina Raimondo, Senator Josh Miller and Representative Deborah Ruggiero to speak to the assembled environmental advocates. 

The Environment Council of Rhode Island is a coalition of more than 60 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.

The first bill ECRI is supporting is the EnergizeRI Act, (H5369/S365). This act would establish a fee on companies that sell fossil fuels in Rhode Island, paid at the point of sale within the state for consumption or distribution within the state. This act would also establish a “Clean Energy and Jobs Fund” to disburse the collected funds. 

The funds would be disbursed through rebates to all residents and businesses in the state as well as allocated to climate resilience, energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy programs that benefit Rhode Islanders, particularly low income residential properties and small business properties.

Representative Deborah Ruggiero is the lead sponsor of the Renewable Energy Growth Program Extension (H5274/S112). “It’s been a very, very successful program over the last several years,” said Ruggiero, “allowing home owners, businesses, municipalities to install renewable energy projects and systems like solar, wind, small scale hydro and finance over 15-20 years.”

The Distributed Generation Contract program was a successful pilot that was extended into the Renewable Energy Growth (REG) program in 2014 (RIGL 39-26.6). Ruggiero’s bill extends the REG for an additional 10 years after the 5th program year, with an annual target of 40 nameplate MW for each of the 10 year period. This will help diversify Rhode Island’s energy mix and improve system reliability. This extension has passed on the floor of the Senate.

The next bill on ECRI’s legislative agenda is the Green Building Act Amendments (H5427), said Elmer.

The Green Buildings Act, RIGL Chapter 37-24, provides that “All major facility projects of public agencies be designed and constructed to at least the LEED certified or an equivalent high performance standard”. 

The legislative findings for The Green Buildings Act state that these high performance standards save energy, reduce water consumption, improve indoor air quality, and more. 

The proposed amendment would reduce water demand, filter and reduce storm water runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, improve human health, and increase outdoor recreation opportunities for the buildings, properties, the surrounding neighborhoods, and their communities. 

LEED for Neighborhood Development and SITES would be the rating systems for the high performance standards of green infrastructure and sustainable landscapes used for “other public improvements of any kind to any public real property”, which includes the property, grounds, and open spaces.

Elmer called Senator Josh Miller a “long-time, long-term champion of renewable energy.”
Miller noted that he had been serving on the education committee for a few years and that it was “nice to be back in the graces of the environmental community” now that he has rejoined the Senate Agriculture and Environmental Committee. Environmental action taken by the states are more important than ever, suggested Miller, because of the “ignorance” of Washington under Trump.

Governor Gina Raimondo arrived late in the program, and faced a number of signs opposing the Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant planned for Burrillville, which she championed early on. Raimondo avoided talk of the power plant during her remarks.

“We’re fortunate as Rhode Islanders to have a wealth of historic parks, open spaces and a beautiful Bay to enjoy,” Governor Raimondo said. “Efforts like this ensure we have clean water, fresh air, and healthy communities — all vital to our way of life, health, and economy. I  am grateful for this coalition’s work on the green economy bond and brownfield cleanup across the state, and look forward to more progress in the months and years to come.”

The last ECRI priority bill is H5897, which would bolster and clarify the Energy Facility Siting Act.

This bill prevents the Energy Facility Siting Board (ESFB) from proceeding to a final hearing or issuing a final decision if any one or more of the designated agencies inform the ESFB that they are unable to form an advisory opinion because of the applicant’s failure to cooperate or provide information.

Because she was late to the program and spoke last, Raimondo’s remarks directly preceded Elmer’s introduction of the bill, which made for an awkward moment:

Here are some other bills ECRI supports:

H5082S166: Eliminate toxic flame retardants

H5116: Increases penalties for intentionally damaging protected lands

H5536: Advance municipal aggregation

H5801: Est. deposits for glass, aluminum, and plastic containers

H5808S442: Establish coastal adaption trust fund

H5905: Fragrance disclosure to the public of chemicals in products

Here are some bills ECRI opposes:

H5076S475: Remove user fees that support the beach management

H5640S632: Cap energy efficiency programs

S386: Eliminates liability protection for outdoor recreation on state lands

Following the speaking program, attendees dispersed to lobby their respective representatives and senators on environmental bills.

Steve Ahlquist is an award-winning journalist, writer, artist and founding member of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism, courage and action. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member. and Twitter: @SteveAhlquist.