The impetus du jour on Smith Hill? Renewable energy. An activist’s plea: Let us be leaders on this.
In light of the defeat last week of the US Senate carbon trading bill — which some observers called the most significant legislative effort to curb global warming — activists and members of the General Assembly are emphasizing the significance of state-level efforts to promote federal action.
“I think it just shows why states need to take the lead,” says Cynthia Giles, vice president and director of Conservation Law Foundation’s (CLF) Rhode Island Advocacy Center. “Both the presidential candidates have said that they favor taking the lead on climate change,” so similar federal legislation could be introduced after George W. Bush leaves the White House.
And since the now-dead Senate bill aimed to divvy up some $560 billion among state leaders on renewable energy, acting now, Giles says, could mean the potential for getting federal money in the future.
The status of Rhode Island’s green efforts largely depend on what becomes of the Global Warming Solutions Act, General Assembly legislation that aims to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emission levels (from 1990) by 20 percent in 2020 and by 80 percent in 2050.
This would equal a 20 percent reduction every 10 years, or a two percent decrease each individual year. The bill is similar to state legislation already enacted in California, Ha-waii, New Jersey, and Washington.
The bill follows similarly green-intentioned legislation that initially passed both chambers last week, requiring National Grid to enter into “commercially reasonable” long-term contracts (of 10 years or more), to create 90 megawatts of renewable energy over a period of four years, with 5 megawatts of that renewable energy to be solar.
Additionally, the Global Warming Solutions Act establishes a panel that would consider options for reducing fossil fuel usage, ranging from the development of more effective transportation options and promoting car pools, to the more controversial prospect of a gas tax increase.
Giles says Rhode Island has done a fair amount to address the development of renewable energy, including participating in the regional greenhouse gas initiative. But she says the state needs to do more.
“There’s big areas that contribute to greenhouse gases in Rhode Island that are not really addressed,” says Giles. The transportation sector is the largest and fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.
The bill would also revise building codes to adopt international energy conservation code standards, a source of concern for some. Roger Warren, executive director of the Rhode Island Builders Association, says a provision in the bill would require the state Building Code Commission to adopt new standards within six months of the bill’s adoption. “It’s too quick,” he says. “What does it do to our industries?”
State Representative Art Handy (D-Cranston), one of five representatives introducing the legislation, weighs the regional impact.
“When you set these benchmarks, you’re sending a signal to the market,” he says, noting that Connecticut and Massachusetts are working to enact similar legislation.