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Senate roundtable discussion highlights climate action priorities, including renewable energy, water infrastructure, climate jobs

STATE HOUSE – The Rhode Island Senate on Tuesday hosted a public conversation focused on several key environmental priorities.

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“An Environmental Roundtable Discussion: Renewable Energy, Clean Water & Jobs” brought together senators, advocates, and others from the community. The discussion centered on proposals to increase Rhode Island’s reliance on renewable energy, protect water resources, and better prepare the state’s workforce for the green jobs these environmental and climate resiliency initiatives create.

“Climate action has never been more urgent. That’s because climate change is not some distant threat. It is here. And we are already feeling its effects,” Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) said during introductory remarks.

He added: “We must act now to reduce our carbon emissions, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and make our communities resilient. That means generating new sources of renewable energy, protecting our most essential resources, and creating a green economy … Confronting this crisis requires commitment from all of us. It requires innovation and collaboration. It requires a true spirit of community.”

Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture, and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, facilitated the discussion.

“The bills we are highlighting today represent just a portion of the Senate’s work on climate action … So many of my colleagues have embraced these issues, and there are many innovative and important proposals either before us already or in the works,” Sen. Euer said.

“As the Ocean State, we all have such a vital interest in climate action. Our state is incredibly special, and it is a wonderful place to live,” Sen. Sosnowski said. “We want to ensure that our children, and their children, can enjoy everything Rhode Island has to offer.”

The roundtable discussion included bill sponsors and key stakeholders from the public. In addition to President Ruggerio and Sens. Euer and Sosnowski, participants included:

  • Michael J. McCaffrey, Senate Majority Leader
  • Hanna M. Gallo, Senate President Pro Tempore
  • Ana B. Quezada, Deputy Senate Majority Whip
  • Walter S. Felag, Jr., Chairman, Senate Committee on Special Legislation & Veterans’ Affairs
  • Jeremy McDiarmid, Vice President, Policy & Government Affairs, New England Clean Energy Council
  • Priscilla De La Cruz, President, Environmental Council of Rhode Island
  • Steven J. King, Managing Director, Quonset Development Corporation
  • Patrick Crowley, Secretary-Treasurer, RI AFL-CIO
  • Michael Sabitoni, President, Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council
  • Michael Grey, Chairman, Governor’s Workforce Board

The discussion took place in the Senate Lounge. It is available in full for viewing via the General Assembly’s website.

The conversation was based around the following package of bills:

Renewable Energy:

  • The Affordable Clean Energy Security Act: S-2583, sponsored by Sen. Euer, aims to move Rhode Island closer to a clean energy future by requiring electric providers to issue a request for proposals for 600 megawatts of new offshore wind capacity by August 2022. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture
  • 100% Renewable Energy Standard for electricity: This bill, S-2274, which the Senate passed last year, has been reintroduced by President Ruggerio. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce.
  • $300 million school bond issue: This bill puts a statewide referendum on the November ballot for the next round of school construction funding. The bill includes incentives for green construction: a 5% bonus to the state share when school districts include certain energy efficiency measures in their projects, and a 10% bonus to the state reimbursement rate when they meet the highest standards for energy efficiency. The bill also adds a staff member at the School Building Authority dedicated to green building standards. This proposal, S-2596, is sponsored by Sen. Gallo. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.

Water Infrastructure:

  • Replacement of all lead pipes: Legislation is in development to identify and replace all lead pipes, giving priority to communities hardest hit by the presence of lead pipes. This will be sponsored by Majority Leader McCaffrey.
  • Dam safety bills: sponsored by Sen. Sosnowski, three dam safety bills (all referred to the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture):
  • Establish a fund to pay for dam repairs or replacement (S-2297);
  • Create a dam hazard notification system and allow the Department of Environmental Management to set penalties for noncompliance with dam emergency action plans (S-2295); and
  • Require that building codes account for high-hazard dams (S-2294).
  • PFAS abatement: requires water suppliers to monitor for presence of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The legislation (S-2298), sponsored by Sen. Felag requires establishment of standards and regulation of PFAS in drinking water and groundwater. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture.

Workforce Development:

  • Renewable energy labor standards: This legislation would ensure that larger renewable energy projects utilize labor standards, including apprenticeship utilization. Any project over 2 megawatts receiving public dollars would be subject to these provisions. This bill, which is in development, will be filed by President Ruggerio.
  • Makes the Real Jobs RI program permanent: The effective Real Jobs RI worker training program trains and connects workers with sectors of the workforce where they are needed, such as in the green economy and in the trades, which already have a strong partnership with Real Jobs. Real Jobs RI is a crucial vehicle for fueling the growth of green jobs, many of which are in the trades. This bill, which the Senate passed a version of last year, will be resubmitted by President Ruggerio.
  • Corrosion prevention apprenticeships: This bill calls for the creation of registered apprenticeships for individuals who apply corrosion prevention materials. It would ensure these individuals are credentialed and meet the highest standards, and would apply to all public projects, helping to ensure community resiliency. This program would help ensure the next generation of tradesmen and women will have the skills and certification they need to properly perform corrosion prevention and mitigation. This work ensures the longevity and protection of our state’s infrastructure. The bill, S-2303, is sponsored by Sen. Quezada. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture.