Audubon Advocacy Tracker
Audubon is supporting all efforts to further the implementation of the Act on Climate law—binding our state to reach significant reductions in carbon emissions, while also ensuring that Rhode Island can weather the impacts of climate change.
2023 Legislative Priorities
Check back here often for updates on the legislation we are currently following, along with the latest actions you can take to support our advocacy efforts.
Conserving Forests While Deploying Renewables: Our 2023 Top Priority
Solar Siting Reform
As a result of collaboration between environmentalists, solar developers, electricians and labor unions, RI has passed its first ever solar siting legislation, taking a critical step forward in aligning our forest preservation and Act on Climate goals. This bill shifts state-level incentives outside of core forests and pushes development towards preferred sites, such as rooftops, parking lots and closed landfills. We couldn't have taken this vital step in protecting the state's largest tracts of forested land without the support of our members.
Farmland Preservation Funds
This year, we succeeded in advocating for additional funding for farmland preservation in the state. $2.5 million has been allotted to the RI Department of Environmental Management for the preservation, protection and conservation of farmlands in RI, enabling critical matches for federal funding opportunities for farmland and local food production. Although the requested amount was cut in half during the legislative negotiations, this bill still proves essential to funding our preservation efforts.
Forest Management Study Commission
H6342 Sponsored by Representative Cotter
The House also passed House Bill 6342, which creates a legislative study commission to evaluate and provide recommendations on forest management. The bill was introduced after a fire in Exeter this year that burned over 200 acres of forest land. Representative Cotter is the sponsor of the study commission.
Renewable Ready Program
S0504 Sponsored by Senator DiMario
The Renewable Ready Program would have been a helpful accompaniment to the passed solar siting reform, but unfortunately, the bill was referred to the House of Environmental and Natural Resources Committee in April and never received a hearing. This program would have inventoried a list of developed or contaminated sites with the potential for solar. The program would have helped to ensure renewable energy projects like solar are built without clearing forests or increasing electricity prices for consumers, by assisting to offset costs involved in preparing preferred sites like commercial rooftops, brownfield sites or former industrial properties, and providing guidance to municipalities and developers. The program was to be supported through federal funding and other existing sources to ensure ratepayers don't bear the cost. We hope to continue pushing for solar siting reform and supportive programs to ensure we protect forests while deploying renewables.
Old Growth Forest Protection Act
H5344 Sponsored by Representative Shanley
The General Assembly failed to pass the Old Growth Forest Protection Act for another year. This act not only defined old growth forests but prohibits any forestry operations on state or municipality-owned land that is or relates to old growth forests. The act would be enforced by the Department of Environmental Management with violation punishable by fines. The act was referred to the House of Environment and Natural Resources and recommended for further study. We hope to continue working with this act and striving for more protective measures related to old growth forests.
Curbing Toxins and Plastic Waste Pollution —Detrimental to Wildlife, Our Environment, and People
H5090 Sub A sponsored by Representative Bennett and S0014 Sub B sponsored by Senator Millar, a restaurant owner from Providence, aims to reduce litter in the state of Rhode Island. Though styrofoam is non-biodegradable, it easily breaks down into tiny pieces that are toxic for wildlife and harmful to the environment. This bill bans the use of beverage stirrers and polystyrene foam boxes for food packaging and preparation at food-service establishments, but includes several exceptions such as agricultural fairs, farmers markets, hospitals, nursing homes and charity organizations. The ban will take effect on Jan. 1, 2025, and if signed into law by the Governor, Rhode Island would become the 11th jurisdiction to adopt this ban nationwide.
"Bottle Bill" (Container Deposit System)
H5502 by Representative McEntee and S0753 by Senator Valverde establishes a container deposit system, instating a 10 cent deposit on most beverage containers that is returned to customers upon proper disposal. Unfortunately, Rhode Island continues to be one of the two states in the region without a bottle bill, despite immense success from our neighboring states' programs, including improved recycling rates and decreased pollution. However, a bill to create a special study commission was passed. This 18-member body would study and provide recommendations to protect our environment from plastic bottle waste/report back to the general assembly no later than 6/10/24. Representative McEntee and several environmental organizations will continue their efforts to pass a bottle bill through the next session.
Read more about the bottle bill and its benefits here.
Extended Producer Responsibility
Extended producer responsibility bills H5091 by Representative Bennett and S0200 by Senator Valverde failed to be passed this year. This legislation aimed at making producers responsible for the waste their products' packaging produces. The bill would have required producers of goods sold in the state to pay fees to recycle the waste generated by their product packaging. Sponsors said the language aimed to control the amount of waste the state generates and buries in the Central Landfill in Johnston, as it is projected to reach total capacity by 2040.
Comprehensive Bans on PFAS (“Forever Chemicals”)
Multiple prohibitions on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, aka PFAS, or “forever chemicals” unfortunately failed this session as well. H5673 and S0196 were comprehensive PFAS bans that would prohibit PFAS in a variety of products sold in the state and commonly found in the home, such as carpets, rugs, cookware, cosmetics, and more.
Banning of Pyrolysis
Unfortunately, bills banning pyrolysis did not pass this legislative session, H5142 introduced by Representative McGaw and S0131 by Senator Ujifusa were recommended to be held for further study. “Advanced recycling” is a misleading term referring to the burning of plastics to dispose of them, creating many pollutants and releasing toxic chemicals into the environment. In 2021 the state legislature prohibited new high-heat medical waste processing facilities in specific areas, and this bill looked to expand those protections and ban all forms of high-heat processing in the state.
Protecting Pollinators From Toxic Pesticides
In 2022, we achieved a critical step in pesticide management – regulating neonicotinoids (neonics) to help keep these dangerous pesticides out of the hands of untrained users. Our elected officials took this critical first step to protect pollinators, pets, people, and the environment from this especially harmful neurotoxin by enacting into law restrictions on neonics §23-25-40 sponsored by Representative Rebecca Kislak and Senator Joshua Miller. This legislation will go into effect on January 1, 2024.
House Bill 6160 sponsored by Representative Thomas Noret, introduced in the 2023 session, proposed amendments to pesticide control legislation, which would have weakened last year’s victory of requiring additional training and testing for applicators of restricted pesticides, like neonics. Fortunately, it did not pass.
Environmental Justice Act
Unfortunately, S770 sponsored by Senator Euer and H6196 by Representative Alzate which ensures Environmental Justice communities have greater protections from new polluting projects did not pass this year. Under these bills, state agencies would be required to implement environmental justice into their permitting proceedings and allow them to consider cumulative impacts of applications and proposed projects. The bill was modeled after one in NJ, which strengthens the voice of families dealing with health impacts of polluted air and water. Currently, in areas like the Port of Providence, polluters are allowed to cluster without state authorities pushing back.
Nevertheless, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management moves forward with its environmental justice efforts, and has recently released its EJ Guidelines for public comment, which they will use to guide all the work they do and center in all plans, programs and policies. We will also continue to rely on the strong work and leadership of our environmental justice organizations in the state.
Green and Healthy Schools Campaign
The Green and Healthy Schools Campaign is a project of Climate Jobs RI, a growing coalition of labor unions, environmental organizations, and community groups. The GHS campaign looks to update the state’s schools to provide a safe, and healthy environment while saving districts money by reducing energy use. They also have a goal of decarbonizing all schools in the state to address climate change and air quality issues that students or faculty in older buildings may face.
Read more about the organization and their Green and Healthy Schools campaign here.
This year, Climate Jobs RI has held a forum for North Kingstown to learn about greening their homes and buildings. The program went over opportunities for homeowners to engage with like federal programs and state grants and programs, and opportunities for North Kingstown’s planned new buildings. They aimed to emphasize not leaving money on the table with the variety of programs available and to take advantage of the incentives and rebates we have.
2023 Climate Literacy Act
Unfortunately, Rhode Island Climate Change and Ocean Protection Education and Workforce Development Acts (S0551 & S0558 / H6105 & H6106) introduced by Senator Lawson and Representative Cortvriend were held for further study this legislative session. The Rhode Island Environmental Education Association was champion of these Acts, which would ensure all Rhode Islanders received climate change education and workforce training opportunities in the emerging blue economy. Educational programming would be both in and out of school settings, and workforce training like apprenticeships, and career and technical education would be funded.
Though these Acts were unsuccessful this session, we will continue advocating for climate change education, and amplifying the organizations within the state that are already working on a just transition for Rhode Island’s workforce.
The passage of this shoreline access legislation this session is historic. It aims to resolve long-standing tension in the Ocean State regarding the right to walk up and down the coastline. This legislation was a compromise between both chambers, creating a new line at 10 feet landward of “recognizable high tide”, rather than the mean high-water line, as established in 1982. After months of investigation by a study commission, the previous line was found to be unworkable for everyone including private landowners, and significantly restricted access. The new law allows greater accessibility for residents to swim, fish and more, and includes provisions around public education and signage to inform where the public right to the beach ends.
Brian Amaral describes this legislation and the legal challenges it may face here.
Equitability in Energy
With great success this session we also experienced failure on a number of energy equitability issues. Lawmakers, unfortunately, failed to move forward with a multitude of different items related to energy and energy costs.
House Bill 5490 would have mandated public hearings on rate changes in the electric and gas utility be held after-work hours, after 5:30pm or later. This Bill would have increased equitable access to “public” meetings.
Next, House Bill 5411 would have extended the utility shutoff moratorium by an additional month, but the bill died in committee.
House Bill 5346 would have expanded the state's low-income heating and energy assistance program, LIHEAP, and also didn't see passage this session.
Similarly, H5847 would have recreated the state's Percentage Income Payment Plan, or PIPP, for gas and electric utility bills. Rather than paying a flat rate, low-income customers would be eligible to pay a fixed percentage of their income for utility bills.
State Building Codes
This year the Assembly passed greener buildings legislation, making Rhode Island the first state in the nation to adopt the newest and most energy-efficient building codes. H6101 and S855A require the Rhode Island Building Code Commission to adopt the 2024 International Energy Conservation Code within 3 months of its publication (expected this fall). Updated building codes will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from one of the largest polluting sectors, and ensure that all new Rhode Island buildings are held to more stringent energy efficiency standards. The update will also ensure electric readiness provisions for new construction, allowing for easy additions of electric vehicles, heat pumps or solar panels.
Phase-Out Toxic Light Bulbs
The Legislature passed H5550A and S1119 in the last hours of the session. This legislation will phase out fluorescent light bulbs that contain mercury starting Jan. 1, 2024. This is an easy adoption for the state that will greatly reduce risk associated with toxic light bulbs.
Click here to learn about the health benefits of this action and what other states are doing.
Lead Pipe Program
S0002B Sponsored by Senate President Ruggerio
S0002 introduced by Senate President Ruggerio was passed, establishing a lead water pipe replacement program for both public and private service lines. The law allows Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank to use federal money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and additional money from state revenue if necessary, to help homeowners replace lead pipes. This legislation will drastically improve living standards and health of people in affected buildings while keeping landlords accountable for lead poisoning and other hazards. The bill requires water suppliers to inventory the amount of service lines that contain lead within their systems and replace any affected pipes within 10 years.
Read more about the program here. Several other pieces of legislation passed this session also aimed at supporting renters with negligent landlords.
Transportation Sector Transformation
Advanced Clean Cars II (ACCII) & Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT)
Through an executive order, Governor Dan McKee has signed Advanced Clean Cars II and Advanced Clean Trucks into law. These bills steadily increase the percentage of zero-emission vehicles that automakers are required to sell in the state. For cars, the sales percentage target will be 100% by 2035 and for trucks, the target varies based on size and type, requiring 40-75% of trucks sold to be zero-emission by the same year.
With this legislation Rhode Island joins 7 other states that have taken lead with this initiative. These bills ensure that RI has sufficient supply of zero-emission vehicles to meet current and future demand, and result in cost savings associated with avoided hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and premature deaths related to pollution.
Changes to RIPTA
The Legislature also made some changes to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, which governs the state's transit system. Initially, there were plans to merge the agency with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, which were ultimately scrapped. However, instead lawmakers passed a scaled down version which puts the RIDOT director as chair of the RIPTA board. Transit advocates fiercely opposed both versions of this bill and fear for the future of public engagement with the quasi-public agency.
Read more about transit riders' worries here.
EV Charging in Parking Lots
Under this new legislation, new and expanded parking lots will be required to reserve a certain percentage of spots for EV charging stations, depending on the size of the lot. This Legislation falls hand in hand with state incentives for EV’s, increasing demand, and the passage of ACCII and ACT.
Despite heavy support from bicycling advocates, legislation to regulate electric bicycles as bikes rather than as motor vehicles failed to pass this session. The bills would have allowed E-bikes to travel on bike paths and other public byways, which is currently technically illegal but weakly enforced. This legislation would have aligned Rhode Island with about 40 other states making this call.
Offshore wind continues to be a priority in the state, as we have some of the strongest winds off our coasts. Regionally the state will be involved in parts of the construction process for companies building in the lease areas off of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and last October, Governor Dan McKee announced an RFP for 600-1,000 MW of offshore wind. This procurement is estimated to supply up to 30% of the state’s energy demand in the year 2030, and when combined with the 30 megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, and the 400 megawatt Revolution Wind Offshore Wind Project, approximately half of the state’s energy will be supplied by wind.
On June 9th the General Assembly approved a $14 billion budget for the 2024 fiscal year, which focuses on addressing the housing crisis, supporting business development and making education funding equitable. The budget also includes several critical energy and climate investments in relation to buildings and infrastructure.
Lawmakers added an additional $39 million to the proposed budget to support development, $4 million of which is specifically allotted to transit-oriented development. This will be supported by another $4.3 million dedicated to the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank to support necessary related infrastructure like roads and utility connections.
These efforts are critical in regard to the electrification of Rhode Island's transportation and building sectors. Specifically, with the electrification of RIPTA’s fleet and increased electric vehicles on the road, this funding is crucial in reaching our Act on Climate goals.