RI House approves climate change bill; goal is net-zero emissions by 2050

Environment

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ After a lengthy debate, Rhode Island House lawmakers on Tuesday night approved legislation that calls for reducing the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions and strengthening its clean-energy policies.

The Act on Climate bill, sponsored by Rep. Lauren Carson, builds upon the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014 by toughening emission reduction targets. Supporters say it also adds accountability to make sure the state’s emission goals are met by 2050.

Carson, D-Newport, called the bill “the most important environmental legislation to emerge from the General Assembly in the last 25 years.”

“The Act on Climate is a meaningful promise to our children that we will not continue destroying the earth they are inheriting,” Carson said. “It lays the groundwork for long-range planning, committing to a practical, 30-year strategy for winding down carbon pollution alongside the rest of the developed world and embracing the new, cleaner technologies that become more effective, available and affordable each year.”

She added, “Taking these steps will help us demand industrial change, capture federal funding and help Rhode Island emerge as a world leader in the explosively expanding green economy.”

The legislation calls for a state council to develop a plan to reduce all climate emissions from transportation, buildings and heating and electricity used across the economy to 10% below 1990 levels this year; 45% below 1990 levels by 2030; 80% below 1990 levels by 2040; and net-zero by 2050.

The bill also requires the creation of an online dashboard where the public can track emissions reductions and sources of energy annually, and would make it mandatory that the state’s Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council update its plan for carbon reduction every five years.

The bill passed the House on a 53-22 vote and was strongly supported by the chamber’s Democratic leadership, though multiple Democrats broke with their party and voted against the measure.

“This legislation requires the state to create an enforceable plan to reduce emissions to levels that will help us avoid the worst consequences of rising temperatures and sea levels,” House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi said.

Those who opposed the bill, including state Rep. Patricia Morgan, argue it will force Rhode Islanders to upgrade their home heating systems. Other Republicans argued that the measure gives too much power to the climate council, empowering it to order changes that only lawmakers should decide.

Carson argued the bill does not require anything of the state’s businesses, property owners or drivers, and pushed back at Morgan’s argument about home heating systems.

The bill now needs to pass both chambers again before it heads to Gov. Dan McKee’s desk for his signature. While McKee has said he supports the general goals in the bill, he hasn’t committed to signing it.

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