Debrief: A Legislative Roundup Of Bills Related To The Environment

Jun 26, 2014

This week we’re bringing our reporters into the studio for legislative roundups. Rhode Island Public Radio’s environmental reporter Ambar Espinoza joined Dave Fallon in the studio to talk about how the environment fared during this legislative session. 

A few highlights of bills and bonds approved by the General Assembly

  • Resilient Rhode Island Act: Sets the building blocks in place for how the state prepares and adapts for climate change-related threats, such as storm surges, sea level rise, extreme weather events, etc. Gov. Lincoln Chafee's executive climate council sets the stage for this bill, which among several things will create a science advisory panel that will work closely with the state and climate change council to ensure the state is using the most up-to-date science. 
  • Food Residuals Recycling Act: Will require large institutions that produce 2 tons or more of food scraps per week to recycle their waste, either by composting it on site or sending it to a composting facility, or by setting it aside for farmers to use as animal feed. This law goes into effect in 2016, but will not apply to institutions until a composting facility is available within 15 miles of their businesses. Supporters and legislators who sponsored this bill say having this in place will invite entrepreneurs to the state to open up composting facilities.
  • Distributed Generations Program: During this program's three year pilot, National Grid tapped into 40 megawatts of power from 29 clean energy projects throughout the state. The bill adds another 160 megawatts to that clean energy portfolio. The expanded program gives solar energy a big boost in the state; other clean energy sources eligible for this program include wind, hydro, and anaerobic digestion. 
  • Clean Water, Open Space, and Healthy Communities Bond: This $53 million bond sets aside money to protect working farms, prevent flood prevention, invest in wastewater infrastructure, and remediate brownfields, acquire and rehabilitate local recreational facilities, and to improve and renovate Roger Williams Park and Roger Williams Park Zoo. But the General Assembly did not approve funds to acquire more open space and invest in green infrastructure, which were both in Gov. Chafee's original bond proposal. (Gov. Chafee has already signed the budget.)
  • Affordable Clean Energy Security Act: Coordinates a regional investment in energy infrastructure, particularly natural gas pipelines, in  New England. The energy commissioner of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources has said this bill would help address the problem of rising electricity prices, giving the New England region one more solution to consider. But environmental advocates have said that the New England governors have not been transparent about the planning process, including how much this project would cost taxpayers. (Gov. Chafee signed this into law.)

​Bills left on the table

  • Plastic Waste Reduction Act: Bans retail stores from using single-use plastic bags at the point of sale.
  • Cesspool Act: Phases out the use of cesspools throughout the state, beginning with those closest to tidal water areas and public drinking water supplies. Requires the identification and replacement of cesspools on all properties that are subject to sale and transfer.
  • Renewable Energy Tax Credit: Restores the 25 percent tax credit for residential renewable energy projects.
  • Rhode Island Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics Act (or informally known as the GMO labeling bill): Would update and refine the definition of words, such as enzymes, natural, food additives, genetically engineered, organically grown, and commercially cultivates. It would require the labeling of genetically modified food, drugs, and other products.