Slow Year for Environmental Protections at Statehouse
June 25, 2018
PROVIDENCE — The 2018 General Assembly session was by all accounts unremarkable for environmental progress. There was no major legislation passed related to climate change, energy, food, waste reduction, or environmental justice.
One major success for animal rights activists was the passage of limitations on the use of restrictive wire cages, known as battery cages. The devises confine egg-laying chickens for their entire lives without room to spread their wings, perch, and perform other instinctive behaviors. The rule doesn’t take effect until 2026.
Rep. Art Handy, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and the Environment, described the session as “slow” for environmental bills. Many of the wide-ranging bills needed amendments to get out of committee, like his energy-efficiency bill, but time simply ran out.
“Some (bills) should have had a better shot,” Handy said.
Sweeping bills never made it out of committee, such as a carbon-fee-and-dividend program and the Global Warming Solutions Act, which makes carbon emission targets enforceable.
Handy singled out the $48.5 million Green Economy and Clean Water Bond referendum as a highlight of the year. Article 5 on the November ballot offers $5 million for coastal climate resiliency, $5 million for bike paths, and $4 million for open space and farmland protection.
Animal welfare. A bill that requires caregivers and custodians to report animal cruelty to authorities and grants them immunity for doing so passed the House and Senate.
Composting. A bill that requires schools to comply with state composting laws passed the House but didn’t receive a Senate hearing.
Flame retardants. Health advocates were alarmed by a last-minute bill that increased the amount of flame retardants contained in residential upholstered bedding and furniture that is manufactured or sold in the state. The bill never made it to committee.
Coastal building. Some municipal planners opposed legislation that they fear allows for taller waterfront buildings. S2413 and H7741 passed both chambers of the General Assembly and will be sent to the governor for a signature. Read more here.
CRMC board. Rhode Island’s coastal regulatory agency is closer to complying with separation-of-powers rules after passage of S2955 and H8319. Members of the General Assembly can no longer serve on the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the governor can appoint nine of the 10 members, with Senate confirmation. Environmental groups didn’t get their request that environmental justice community representation serve on the council. Read more here.
Education. The General Assembly passed a bill that requires schools to make their best effort to have students in grades kindergarten through 12 take at least one field trip to a nature preserve each year.
Food. A tax on sugary drinks died in committee. Bills banning harmful chemicals from food packaging died in committee. H7732 banned per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. H7369 banned bisphenol A.
Glass. The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation is still looking for something to do with glass now that it no longer has a buyer for it. In the meantime, the General Assembly approved bills H7930 and S2653 that allows glass to be used as a daily cover at the Central Landfill.
Illegal dumping. The House and Senate passed bill S2435 that allows cities and towns to fine vehicle operators for illegal dumping.
Offshore drilling. The Senate and House passed resolutions opposing drilling off the Rhode Island coast and in nearby federal waters. Legislation, S2116 and H7250, that bans the construction of infrastructure that supports offshore drilling died in committee.
Open space. Owners of open space can now sue for encroachment and damage from trespassing on their property. H7383 and S2682 were approved by the House and Senate during the final week of the General Assembly session.
Power plant. Several bills to amend power-plant siting died in committee. S2054 required power-plant applications to include the project’s emissions impact on climate change. S2905 sought to increase the Energy Facilities Siting Board from three to seven members. The House passed its version of the bill, but the Senate never held a hearing.
Renewable-energy growth. The popular Renewable Energy Growth program ran out of its electricity allotment in 2017 and is close to reaching its limit of megawatts from National Grid this year. S2357 and H7050 would have allowed unused megawatts from previous years allotments for renewable-energy projects to be transferred to years that reached the limit. The Senate passed its bill, but the House bill died in committee.
Renewable energy building. The House passed a bill that creates siting standards for wind and solar projects within each municipality. The Senate never heard H7793. A state advisory group is developing a siting guidance plan and a model ordinance for cities and towns to consider for adoption. The legislation would have set a deadline for municipalities to approve siting rules.
House bill H8141 bill prohibited state renewable-energy incentives from funding solar and wind projects built in forests. The bill died in committee.
Scituate Reservoir. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s effort to monetize ownership of the Providence Water Supply Board and the Scituate Reservoir died in committee. H8123 and S2838 sought to allow Providence Water to merge with another entity such as the Narragansett Bay Commission.
Solar power. A pilot program for solar energy systems at schools stalled in committee.
Unhealthy food and beverages. The General Assembly passed bills H2350 and S7419 that prohibit advertising of food and beverages that don’t meet minimum nutrition standards. The ban is only in effect during school hours. Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the bills into law on June 4.
Woody biomass. The Senate passed a bill that allows a wood-fueled power plant to qualify for the renewable-energy credit program known as net metering. The House bill passed out of committee, but environmental groups quickly mobilized and stopped both bills from advancing.
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