Updated April 22, 2021
Audubon’s Legislative Priorities for 2021
By Meg Kerr, Senior Director of Policy
After years of inaction by the legislature on our top legislative priorities, 2021 is looking to be a HUGE year for Rhode Island's environment. You can stay updated by tracking any of these bills using the Secretary of State's Bill Tracker tool and by signing up to receive Audubon Action Alerts and Advocacy Updates!
Act On Climate 2021
Signed into law April 10, 2021!
Our top priority is passing the Act On Climate bill:
S0078 - Sponsored by Euer, Ruggerio, McCaffrey, Goodwin, Sosnowski, Coyne, Cano, Murray, Valverde, Kallman
H5445 - Sponsored by Carson, Cortvriend, Blazejewski, Kazarian, Ruggiero, Donovan, Speakman, Knight, McEntee, and Alzate
This bill is Audubon’s top priority for the 2021 legislative session. Act On Climate 2021 makes critical adjustments to the Resilient RI Act to increase Rhode Island’s efficiency and effectiveness in responding to the climate crisis. It updates the climate targets, making them consistent with current science, requiring net-zero emissions by 2050. It creates accountability and transparency by requiring the development of an online public dashboard to track emissions reductions and energy consumption. The bill makes the state’s reductions binding and provides a mechanism for enforcement. And it requires the state to plan for an equitable transition for environmental justice populations.
The Act On Climate Bill updates the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014 in two important ways:
- It updates our climate targets in accordance with the latest science regarding what is needed to avert climate disaster, setting the 2035 mandate at a 50% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the 2050 mandate at a 100% reduction.
- It requires accountability and transparency by making the state’s carbon emission reductions binding. If the state fails to follow the law, Rhode Islanders can enforce climate action.
The Ocean State Climate Adaptation and Resilience Fund (OSCAR)
S0035 - Sponsored by Pearson, Euer, Coyne, Anderson, Valverde, Archambault, Kallman, Bell, DiMario, Acosta, and Calkin
H5967 - Sponsored by Vella-Wilkinson, Ruggiero, Noret, Solomon, Donovan, Fogarty, Blazejewski, and Shanley
The OSCAR fund would create a dedicated long-term source of grant dollars for cities and towns to help them protect vulnerable coastal habitats, as well as river and stream floodplains from climate change impacts. It would also help preserve public access to the shore. The OSCAR fund will raise $1.9M per year through a new $0.05 per barrel fee (there are 42 gallons in a barrel) on petroleum imported by ship into Rhode Island, which is appropriate since the burning of fossil fuels contributes directly to climate change. This fee equates to 1/10th of a cent per gallon of fuel.
Audubon would prioritize investing this money on salt marsh restoration efforts to protect Saltmarsh Sparrows and other wildlife.
Protection of Forest Habitat and Solar Siting
Audubon believes that Rhode Island needs to promote the rational development of renewable energy to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals and mitigate climate change while also protecting critical habitats. Audubon opposes the destruction of Rhode Island’s forest and other habitats to meet our renewable energy goals. We believe that renewable energy projects should be sited on brownfields, landfills, gravel pits, rooftops and other developed areas. We also believe that the state needs to put policies in place to accelerate the protection of critical unprotected forest habitat areas.
- S0172 / H5259: Allows towns to protect parks and conservation land through designation as public trust.
- S0094 / H5472: Improves enabling legislation for conservation easements.
- S0470 / H5760: Creates forest conservation commission to identify strategies to protect and maintain state forests.
- S0474 / H6169: Closes the 10 megawatts (MW) loophole - currently, this loophole allows multiple 10 MW projects to be built on contiguous parcels creating projects as large as 60 MW, often on forested parcels.
2021 Legislative Priorities
- Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) must step up to assist with communicating the importance of forests for climate resilience and habitat. Audubon will support RIDEM recommended policies to protect critical forest resources.
- Amend existing renewable energy laws to de-incentivize development on green-fields. We have identified three priorities:
- Close the 10 megawatts (MW) loophole. The state’s Virtual Net Metering Program (VNM) caps projects at 10 MW. However, projects are built on contiguous parcels creating projects as large as 60 MW, often on forested parcels. (S0474 - Sponsored by DiMario, Euer, Ciccone, Valverde, DiPalma, Seveney, Calkin, Bell, Kallman, and Anderson)
- We oppose expanding the VNM program until the siting issue is resolved.
- Expand the Renewable Energy Growth Program (REG) as it includes incentives for certain land-use types. We will support other policy and legislative recommendations directed at this issue.
Pollinator Health and Habitat & Pesticide Management
Pollinators are declining worldwide. The RI Wildlife Action Plan lists the rusty patched bumble bee, the yellow-banded bumblebee, the monarch butterfly and 10 species of silkworm and sphinx months as pollinator species of greatest conservation need. Pesticides used for the control of mosquitoes and other widespread problem insects, as well as homeowner use of over-the-counter pesticides, contribute to the decline. Loss of habitat and climate change also impact their populations.
Audubon has worked for several years on issues related to pollinator health and habitat. This work has consistently identified DEM’s limited capacity to manage and monitor pesticide use in the state. Audubon Board Member Dr. Charles Clarkson led the development of the state’s Breeding Bird Atlas and has spoken about declining bird numbers in Rhode Island, matching trends seen worldwide. Research is showing a link between pesticide use, particularly neonicotinoids, and impacts on birds.
2021 Legislative priorities: