Rhode Island lawmakers pass sweeping climate change bill

April 7, 2021 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island lawmakers have passed a wide-ranging bill to address climate change that would require the state to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and Gov. Daniel McKee has indicated he will sign it.

The Act on Climate bill received its final approval from both the House and Senate on Tuesday evening.

The bill also 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, WPRI-TV reported.

“Rhode Island has been on the leading edge of offshore wind in the United States, and is also at the forefront of other renewable generation and efficiency programs,” said Democratic Sen. Dawn Euer, one of the bill’s sponsors. “With Washington now also pivoting toward support for the important work of adopting clean energy solutions, we have everything we need to do our part to slam the brakes on carbon pollution while revolutionizing our economy at the same time.”

McKee, a Democrat, said he supported the bill’s overall goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but questioned language that would allow Rhode Island residents and organizations to sue the state. But Attorney General Peter Neronha advised McKee that similar provisions are found in key federal environmental laws and they haven’t led to frivolous court cases.

“As the governor has said, he strongly supports the environmental goals of the bill regarding the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions,” The Democratic governor’s office said in a statement. “As part of his due diligence, the governor requested a letter from the attorney general which addressed his concerns regarding the litigation portion of the legislation.”

Senate Republicans said the bill puts too much power in the hands of the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council, which, under the approved bill, would be charged with developing the state’s plans to meet the new emissions reductions targets.

The council was created in 2014 to advise the governor on what state agencies can do to address climate change. It’s made up of heads of state agencies, including the departments of environmental management, transportation and health, and the energy resources office.

“This legislation transfers power from the General Assembly to a group of unelected bureaucrats appointed by the governor,” Senate Minority Whip Jessica de la Cruz said.

Other opponents of the bill expressed concern that homeowners and businesses would be forced to bear the costs of converting to electric heating systems and vehicles in order to reach the goals.