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Return of Environmental Bills Held for Further Study Planned for New General Assembly Session — ecoRI News

Return of Environmental Bills Held for Further Study Planned for New General Assembly Session — ecoRI News

ROB SMITH/ecoRI staff

PROVIDENCE Rhode Island legislators are expected to return to the General Assembly chambers next week. Environmental advocates are hoping for an ambitious agenda. The Legislature will consider a variety of climate-related bills that were not passed last session, including the Act on Climate bill.

The reintroduction the Renewable Energy Standards Act is top of the legislative priority list. The 2021 bills (H5762A and S0629A), codify an executive order signed in 1980 by former Gov. Gina Raimondo ordered energy providers to source 100% renewable energy for Rhode Island electricity by 2030. It passed the Senate last January with 30 votes, but was blocked by a House committee.

At least three bills are expected to be introduced by state legislators. They will regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as forever chemicals. These carcinogens can be found in plastics, packaging, waste, and water supplies. Researchers have found a link between fluorinated chemicals and thyroid disease, low birth weight, cancer, heart disease, and other conditions.

State officials have begun to worry about PFAS. Officials from the Rhode Island Department of Health tested every major source of drinking water in the state in 2019. The agency found that 48 percent of sites tested positive to PFAS. Additionally, 24 percent had elevated levels above the recommended limit.

43 percent of the schools that had a well on-site tested positive for PFAS levels exceeding the recommended limit.

Two bills that are likely to be introduced by lawmakers will be similar to the ones from last year: one prohibiting forever chemicals in food packaging (H5356A) and S0110), and another setting maximum contaminant levels in drinking water, surface and ground waters (H5523A and S0107A).

Another major win for environmentalists was the Ocean State Climate Adaptation and Resilience fund. The bill provides grants to municipalities and state agency for adaptation of public infrastructure to climate change impacts.

The law was passed, however, without any funding mechanism. Original proposals by lawmakers included a nickel per barrel of petroleum products imported into the State. This would have raised an estimated $1.9million annually for climate-related projects. Environmental advocates claim they will try to get OSCAR funding this year.

Bottle deposit bills will be returning to the Legislature, although details are still being worked on. Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-South Kingstown), introduced a bill in 2020 to set a 10-cent redemption rate for bottles returned.

According to the Conservation Law Foundation’s claim, such a deposit would allow for a 90 per cent redemption rate, based upon similar rates in Oregon (and Michigan). It was expected that the measure would divert approximately 15,000 tons of plastic containers from the Central Landfill, Johnson each year. The bill was remanded for further study.

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Trade and business associations claimed that the rate, higher then Rhode Islands neighboring states’, would cut down on beverage sales and raise costs for rent and labor, energy, food, and food.

While the Transportation & Climate Initiative is currently on pause, environmental advocates will likely reintroduce the 2021 bills (H7680, S2365) that would require the state’s light-duty, non-emergency vehicle fleets to be converted to electric by the end the decade.

The legislation would establish a state treasurer-controlled revolving loan fund to purchase electric vehicles as required for state departments or agencies. A similar bill was introduced last year by Rep. Edith Ajello D.Providence, but was withdrawn by the committee for further investigation.

The session of the 2022 General Assembly is set to begin on January 4.

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