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Steps Taken at the Statehouse

Editorial by Meg Kerr, Senior Director of Policy

Audubon’s 2017 legislative year was very successful, setting the stage for important work
this fall and winter. Highlights include:

Passage of H 6256 (Representative Handy) – House Resolution Respectfully Requesting the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to Continue Collaborating with the Pollinator Working Group Established to Make Findings and Recommendations with Regard to Maintaining, Protecting and Enhancing Pollinator Habitat and Health in Rhode Island. This bill continues the work of the Pollinator Working Group that is staffed by Audubon and the RI Nursery and Landscape Association. Recommendations from year one include strengthening the state’s pesticide program in RI DEM, working with state agencies including the Department of Transportation on enhancing pollinator habitats, and increasing public education programs.

Passage of S 0982 (Senators Sosnowski, Coyne, Calkin, Kettle, Conley) – Senate Resolution Creating a Special Legislative Commission to Study Pesticide Control Regulations. This study commission was a top priority recommendation of the Pollinator Working Group. The Commission has eleven members appointed by the President of the Senate, including one seat for the Environment Council of RI. The Commission will meet at the call of the Chair and will report by March 1, 2018.

Passage of H 5427 (Representatives Blazejewski, Edwards, Walsh, Marshall, Marszalkowski) / S 952 (Senators DiPalma, Sosnowski, Miller, Coyne, Seveney) – Relating to Property and Works: The Green Buildings Act. This bill amends the state’s existing Green Buildings Act, adding metrics that promote additional development of green infrastructure on public properties. It was the Green Infrastructure Coalition’s legislative priority. The bill phases in the new metrics with four pilot projects. We will be watching implementation closely. Stay tuned!

Water supply management was under discussion this session. More than 60% of the state relies on Providence Water’s Scituate Reservoir for their drinking water supply. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy almost over-topped Newport’s water supply reservoir. The July 2013 report from the Rhode Island Department of Health, “SafeWater RI, Ensuring Safe Water for Rhode Island’s Future” identified 11 of the state’s 34 water utilities as being at high risk from coastal flooding due to climate change.

To begin to address these concerns, we were pleased to see passage of S 0887 (Senators Sosnowski, Coyne, and Conley)Creating a Special Legislative Commission to Study the RI Water Resources Board. This Senate Resolution creates a 15-member study commission to review the functions of the Water Resources Board and make recommendations to the Senate to strengthen the governance of the state’s water supply.

There were also a number of bills related to renewable energy development on farms and on land in the Farm Forest and Open Space program. Audubon opposes the Invenergy plant, and we want to see rapid development of renewable energy. We believe it is important to protect the habitat and other ecosystem values provided by farms, nurseries, forests, and open space. We want to help farmers by protecting farmland and providing supplemental income from renewable development. And we want to ensure that renewable development considers social equity.

Meeting all these criteria is challenging. We are working with the Office of Energy Resources and other stakeholders to create a pathway to thoughtfully and strategically achieve the state renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals while promoting equity and minimizing detrimental environmental impacts.

It is already a busy fall. Sign up for advocacy updates and watch Audubon’s Facebook page to follow the work!