After years of inaction, Rhode Island’s Senate and General Assembly have finally taken action on the climate crisis by passing “An Act On Climate.” In recognition of this groundbreaking climate legislation, newly sworn-in Governor Dan McKee should plan a public signing ceremony for this crucial piece of law. Here’s why.
“Act on Climate” updates the 2014 Resilient Rhode Island Act, by bringing its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in line with what the scientific consensus says is needed to keep the world from far worse climate disasters, and it makes those targets binding. These were deep flaws in the 2014 law, which I supported at the time since it was the best that could gain passage at that time. Act on Climate gives us the chance to fix the 2014 law and become climate leaders once again.
Here are my top 10 reasons McKee should support this legislation.
1. The energy transition to renewables is coming, and if the state doesn’t act now, it will be left behind. This bill makes sure there is a plan to reduce the state’s emissions over the coming decades in the smartest, most cost-effective way possible. Much of the short-term emissions reductions will come from an influx of low-cost offshore wind energy and investments in energy efficiency. The energy transition won’t be costly for Rhode Islanders because the market is already going in this direction.
2. Rhode Island voters want climate action. In question after question on a recent survey, Rhode Islanders led the nation in concern about climate change and support for emission reductions (92 percent).
3. Act on Climate will put Rhode Island at a competitive advantage. The targets (45 percent by 2030; 80 percent by 2040; 100 percent by 2050) match those being adopted across the country and the world — although they still trail the targets just adopted by the Massachusetts legislature. This commitment to emission reductions will unlock the growth of the green economy and bring good green jobs to the state.
4. In making state emissions reduction targets binding and allowing lawsuits, the state would be replicating what Massachusetts and Connecticut did 13 years ago when they passed their Global Warming Solutions Acts.
5. The lawsuit provision in the bill is limited — it allows only Rhode Island residents or entities to sue the state for compliance with meeting state climate targets. The result of winning the lawsuit may only be that the state must comply with the targets, not financial or other compensation from the state. This ensures government accountability but also eliminates the possibility of too much litigation.
6. This bill gives the McKee administration the resources it needs to act on climate. By passing this bill, the House and Senate signaled that they heard Rhode Islanders’ calls for climate action; as with all public policy, they have delegated implementation to the administration. McKee should accept this delegation and direct his agencies to help Rhode Island rise to the challenge.
7. The state has contracted four recent studies outlining pieces of how to make this clean energy transition. The studies show that net zero by 2050 is doable, necessary, and affordable.
8. Rhode Island currently spends $3 billion to $4 billion every year on fossil fuels brought from out of state. This bill will accelerate the in-state green energy industries, including solar, wind, and energy efficiency, creating tens of thousands of good jobs for electricians, HVAC technicians, solar installers, and more.
9. There are other costs of not acting: Replacing old polluting facilities and vehicles, and even gas stoves and boilers, will significantly reduce particulate and indoor air pollution in Rhode Island. Doing so reduces hospital admissions for asthma and bronchitis and saves lives. The people most affected by pollution are children, pregnant women, the elderly, and the poor.
10. Rhode Island is small, but we can still make a difference. By acting now the state can plan an orderly transition off the fuels we must stop burning. Rhode Island is are already late to acting on climate change: We see the impacts of climate change, like flooding and heat waves, that are pummeling our state. McKee should take this opportunity to make the state a climate leader once again.
Signing the bill into law will improve the health of residents, help secure a viable future, and bring a series of benefits such as green jobs and healthier air for Rhode Island. In recognition of this groundbreaking climate legislation, McKee should be planning a very public signing ceremony for this crucial piece of law.
Timmons Roberts is director of the Climate and Development Lab at Brown University.