Environment Council of Rhode Island

...building an ecologically healthy future in a sustainable economy

RI Senate Passes First Major Climate Bill in 7 Years

Pub Date: 
Wednesday, March 17, 2021


Contact Kai Salem, VP of Policy, Environment Council of Rhode Island
kai@greenenergyconsumers.org | 978-399-9933


On Tuesday, March 16, the Rhode Island State Senate passed the 2021 Act On Climate (S78-Sub A sponsored by Senator Dawn Euer), the first major climate and environmental bill to see a floor vote since 2014. The bill is a long overdue update to the 2014 Resilient Rhode Island Act to address climate-warming carbon emissions. It revises emission-reduction targets according to the latest science, improves transparency, and adds accountability to ensure that state climate goals are met over the next thirty years. And for the first time, the bill centers equity and justice in the state’s plans for reducing emissions and building climate resilience.

“The Act On Climate bill provides Rhode Island with the necessary foundation to support the state’s rapid transition away from fossil fuels and to a green economy. We’re especially pleased with the accountability and transparency built into the bill so all Rhode Islanders can see the state’s progress and hold our leaders accountable,” said Meg Kerr, former President of the Environment Council of Rhode Island and Sr. Director of Policy at Audubon Society of RI.

The climate crisis is here: Rhode Island is experiencing more warming than any other state in the contiguous U.S. Ocean warming is starting to hurt our marine industries, and communities across the state are at risk of flooding and extreme weather. The impacts of climate change most severely harm our frontline communities—especially Black, People of Color and Indigenous communities, poor and working families, and those who have historically borne environmental injustice. Rhode Island cannot wait to address the climate crisis.

"The best time for our leaders to have acted on climate was twenty years ago, but the second-best time is now, to paraphrase an old proverb. It took many years for advocates, champions in the General Assembly, and tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders to build the support needed to pass this monumental legislation. When this bill becomes law, we will finally have the framework in place to meaningfully and equitably address the climate crisis—then the real hard work begins," said Johnathan Berard, Rhode Island Director of Clean Water Action and member of the Environment Council of RI.

The 2021 Act On Climate is the foundation for Rhode Island to transform every sector of its economy to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. With a binding mandate to reduce emissions, environmental advocates expect Act On Climate to dramatically accelerate climate action in the Ocean State.

The Environment Council of RI is thrilled to see climate action early in the legislative session. We call on the House to pass it swiftly and Governor McKee to sign the 2021 Act On Climate into law by Earth Day, April 22nd.

Rhode Island voters are counting on legislators and decision makers to take climate action now. In fact, the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States confirmed that Rhode Island voters considered climate change the second most important problem facing the country, with COVID-19 being the first.

In 2020, the Environment Council of RI, a coalition of 70 environmental organizations and individuals representing 50,000 Rhode Islanders, made the Act On Climate bill its sole legislative priority. The council also launched the Climate Crisis Campaign project with the support of 29 organizations and businesses across different sectors. The Climate Crisis Campaign called upon the Rhode Island government to take immediate action to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by phasing out fossil fuels, creating a just and equitable transition to a sustainable economy, and investing in adaptation and resilience to protect the people and places we love. The campaign continues to mobilize advocates and Rhode Islanders in support of the Act On Climate bill.

The 2020 version of the bill had significant momentum before COVID-19 ended the legislative session prematurely. After yet another year of inaction, the urgency of the climate crisis drove over 700 Rhode Islanders to voice their support for the 2021 Act On Climate, representing every House and Senate District in the State.

New language in the 2021 Act On Climate bill calls for the transition to a clean energy future to be just and equitable. A just and equitable transition means replacing dirty fossil-fuel based jobs with clean energy jobs that pay prevailing wage; delivering renewable energy at lower cost to families and businesses; and investing in reliable transit service that connects essential workers and other working people to economic opportunities.

“It’s time to take climate action. The climate crisis is here along with the existing racial and economic inequities and environmental injustices that have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Priscilla De La Cruz, President of the Environment Council of RI and RI Director at Green Energy Consumers Alliance. The bill calls for the inclusion of environmental justice populations and a process for environmental justice communities to provide input on concrete plans. The mandated plans will identify support for workers in the transition as well as the development of programs to recruit, train, and retain women, people of color, Indigenous people, veterans, formerly incarcerated people, and people living with disabilities in jobs related to a clean energy economy.

When the 2021 Act On Climate becomes law, the Environment Council of RI aims to have a new set of top priorities to help the state achieve the binding goals established by the bill and protect environmental justice communities. Act On Climate begins our race to address the climate crisis; we look to Rhode Island’s leaders and passionate residents to build policies and programs that will take us the rest of the way.

What Can You Do?

Contact Governor McKee (governor@governor.ri.gov , and your own State Representative (www.rilin.state.ri.us/representatives) to encourage them to support the 2021 Act On Climate bill H5445 by Representative Lauren Carson and S78-Sub A by Senator Dawn Euer.
Thank you!


About the Environment Council of Rhode Island

The Environment Council of Rhode Island is a coalition of organizations and individuals whose mission is to serve as an effective voice for developing and advocating policies and laws that protect and enhance the environment.