Pass or Fail? 2016 Rhode Island Legislative Session Environmental Scorecard
June 27, 2016
PROVIDENCE — Hundreds of environmental bills are introduced each year in the General Assembly. Most go nowhere and simply die in committee. This year, however, saw many bills make their way into law.
Here’s what passed:
Energy assistance: The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program Enhancement Plan will be expanded throughout the year for certain groups.
Virtual net metering allows for shared renewable-energy projects for people without the space or funds for a stand-alone project.
Renewable Energy Standard: The program that requires annual increases in the amount of renewable energy in the mix of electricity delivered to homes and businesses was extended from 2019 to 2035.
Renewable Energy Fund: The Commerce RI fund that provides grants to small- and medium-size solar projects was extended from 2017 to 2027. The program is funded through a surcharge on electricity bills.
A consumer website will list prices and policies for third-party electricity sellers. Here’s the bill.
Compost: Schools and research institutions that generate at least 52 tons of waste annually join institutions such as grocery stores that began managing and composting food scrap this year. Schools must comply by Jan. 1, 2018.
Open-space referendums typically occur every other year and are popular with voters. If approved in November, the $35 million Green Economy Bond will be set aside for bike paths, open space, brownfields and stormwater management.
Developers, builders and private equity firms were given a boost with the passage of the wetland buffer bill and the Tiverton casino.
Light bulb take-back program creates a statewide collection for compact florescent light bulbs. The program is funded by light-bulb manufactures and managed by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation. The program starts in 2020.
Lead water testing will be expanded to schools and day-care centers. Lead-safe rules also comply with federal building built after 1960.
Hemp farming: The Hemp Growth Act allows hemp farming through a special state license.
Ocean acidification: The House will create a 13-member commission to study the impacts of ocean acidification on Rhode Island. A report is due no later than April 1, 2017.
Flood audit: The House approved a commission to assess flood risks in Rhode Island.
Pollinators: The House approved a working group to investigate how studies on declining bee populations can help improve farming practices in Rhode Island. A written report from the Department of Environmental Management is due by Feb. 15, 2017.
Animal cruelty: The penalty for malicious harm to an animal was increased from not more than two years in jail to not more than five years in jail and 50 hours of community service. A prohibition on the use of bullhooks on elephants is on its way to Gov. Gina Raimondo’s desk. Raimondo already signed a ban on the sale and trade of shark fins.
Seals: The harbor seal is poised to be become Rhode Island’s official marine mammal.
Outdoor dog dining: If restaurants want to, they can now officially allow leashed dogs in outdoor dining areas.
RIPTA board: The seven-member board of directors for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority must have one regular rider and one person with a disability. Here’s the bill.
Here are a few bills that didn’t advance:
The proposed Burrillville power plant received a boost when the Senate Judiciary Committee delivered the rare “recommends no passage” to legislation that would have allowed residents to vote on a tax agreement.
GMO bills died in committee as they have for the past five years.
Consumer product restrictions on bisphenol A, formaldehyde in children’s products and flame retardants in furniture died in committee.
Fireworks restrictions passed the House but weren’t heard in the Senate.
Geoengineering restrictions died in committee.
Quarry regulations in Charlestown and Westerly died in committee.
Bans on plastic bags, single-use water bottles and polystyrene died in committee. Here’s the bill.
Ten million dollars for a Pawtucket and Central Falls commuter rail station fund died in committee.
Tree pollution: A bill to fine neighbors for wayward leaves and shrubs passed the Senate but didn’t get a hearing in the House.
Great wrap-up. Are you going to do a similar summary of the effect of the budget on the environment? I’m thinking specifically of the sudden defunding the Conservation Districts and the Rivers Council. Whether or not you’re in favor of state funding for those state-mandated programs, the suddenness of the cuts has thrown a lot of people and projects into turmoil.