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McKee under pressure over RI climate bill requiring net-zero emissions by 2050

Politics - Government

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Business groups and environmental organizations are ramping up their advocacy for and against a sweeping climate-change bill whose fate could soon be in the hands of Gov. Dan McKee.

The Act on Climate bill — which has already won initial passage in both the House and Senate — is expected to get final votes in both chambers on Tuesday. If it passes, the bill will go to McKee’s desk for him to sign or veto.

The legislation calls for Rhode Island to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050; requires the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council to draft plans to hit that goal; and empowers citizens to sue the state after 2025 if the emissions goals aren’t met.

While Senate Democrats were united in support of the bill during the first vote, a number of House Democrats opposed it. On the other side, nearly all Republicans have lined up 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 Joe Shekarchi said last month. “It also increases accountability and transparency by requiring public metrics for monitoring emissions reductions and a robust process for public participation and input.”

McKee, who succeeded fellow Democrat Gina Raimondo last month, has said he supports the bill’s overall goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, in part due to Rhode Island’s vulnerable coastline. However, McKee sent a letter to lawmakers last week warning that as currently written the legislation “could lead to expensive, protracted and vexatious litigation” against the state.

On Monday, the leaders of 19 business groups issued a news release backing McKee on the climate bill and calling on the General Assembly to enact changes he has proposed. They said the state’s experts have led them to believe eliminating emissions on the timeline called for in the Act on Climate bill “will take full electrification of our businesses, homes, and vehicles within 19 years.”

“This mandatory target, which allows any individual or organization to file a lawsuit, places the fate of all Rhode Islanders in the hands of individuals with no accountability to the voters,” they wrote.

The statement’s signatories include David Chenevert of the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association, Grafton “Cap” Willey of the Rhode Island Small Business Economic Summit Tax and Budget Committee, and Phil Tedesco of the Rhode Island Association of Realtors, as well as the leaders of seven local Chambers of Commerce.

Republicans have been voicing similar critiques, with the state GOP blasting out a series of news releases urging voters to contact McKee and tell him to veto the climate bill.

On Monday, the party pointed to a National Conference of State Legislatures report showing Massachusetts is the only New England state that currently has a legal requirement to bring emissions to net zero. They also pointed out that Vermont’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, vetoed a climate bill last year because it did not give the legislature final approval over the state’s plan to reduce emissions. (Lawmakers quickly voted to override Scott’s veto.)

“Keep the heat on McKee or someday you may not be able to afford to heat your home,” the GOP statement said.

Attorney General Peter Neronha offered a counterpoint last month in a television interview with Dan Yorke, dismissing the idea that Act on Climate’s litigation provision would lead to frivolous lawsuits.

“There are citizen-suit provisions in a lot of the existing environmental laws — Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act — so citizen-suit provisions are fairly common,” Neronha, a first-term Democrat, told Yorke. He added, “I think the goals of the legislation are exactly right, which is to get us serious about climate change.”

The Environment Council of Rhode Island sought to shore up support for the climate bill last week, calling on McKee to sign the measure in a statement issued on behalf of its membership of dozens of organizations and individuals.

“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,” Meg Kerr, senior director of policy at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, said in a statement. “The accountability provision in the Act On Climate bill updates the Resilient Rhode Island Act and gives it teeth.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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