On April 10th, Governor Daniel McKee signed the landmark Act on Climate bill into law, updating Rhode Island’s climate goals with mandatory, enforceable targets which scientists indicate are necessary to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. The law updates the 2014 Resilient Rhode Island Act which set aspirational goals and will ensure the state takes actions necessary to reduce carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 45% by 2030, 80% by 2040, and to net-zero levels by 2050. With the strokes of 5 ceremonial pens, Governor McKee added Rhode Island to the growing number of states in the region that have committed to reducing carbon pollution.  As a result, Rhode Islanders will see benefits from cleaner air, healthier homes, increased investment in the local economy, and a more independent and resilient energy system. 

This law puts Rhode Island at the forefront of a changing regional economy that is actively reducing its dependence on polluting, imported fossil fuels by transitioning to local, clean, and renewable sources of energy.
– Hank Webster, Acadia Center’s Rhode Island Director and Staff Attorney

The Act on Climate law requires the state to update its greenhouse gas reduction plan by the end of 2022 with another update in 2025 and every five years thereafter. At the signing ceremony on historic Bowen’s Wharf in Newport, Governor McKee instructed his cabinet to “ramp up the strategic planning and outreach needed to put together plans and meet the targets under this act, and do it quickly.”

Acadia Center will continue to be a key stakeholder in those discussions and on Monday, Acadia Center’s Rhode Island Director, Hank Webster, convened leaders in the business community to discuss opportunities to work together to achieve these important environmental goals for the benefit of all Rhode Islanders. “This law is really about making sure Rhode Island prepares itself for an energy transition that we know is occurring on a global scale. It will ultimately help create and sustain jobs, improve our energy resiliency, and attract new businesses and workers. Rhode Island was the birthplace of the American industrial revolution and with this significant commitment to a clean energy economy, we can recapture that legacy of innovation.”

The Future: One Day at a Time

President Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a  time.” It’s also true that the present has often been built one day at a time through incalculable numbers of small and large actions. Acadia Center supported passage of Rhode Island’s initial climate legislation in 2014 and has been a lead organization in the annual efforts to strengthen Rhode Island’s commitment to clean energy, working in collaboration with other advocates as part of the Environment Council of Rhode Island, the Climate Crisis Campaign, the Energize Rhode Island Coalition, and Climate Jobs RI Coalition—a partnership between environmental and labor organizations. Acadia Center provided regular climate and energy briefings to legislators, demonstrating the health and economic benefits of climate action for their constituents, such as lower rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease, and even premature death.

Acadia Center and its partners conducted several virtual webinars throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and the transition to a new governor and House leadership in 2021. Acadia Center worked with legislative sponsors to strengthen the law and testified in support of the latest versions of the Act on Climate in 2020 and 2021. In recent weeks, Acadia Center played a key role in correcting a steady stream of disinformation coming from fossil-fuel aligned opponents to climate action.

Acknowledging the longstanding efforts of advocacy groups like Acadia Center, State Representative Lauren Carson, lead sponsor of the law in the House, said, “To the environmental advocates, I say years and years of work in the legislature have culminated in a bill that has moved a tremendous percentage of voters in the state of Rhode Island.” Attorney General Peter Neronha said, “I want to recognize the advocates that pushed elected officials—people like me—to do what is best for the people of the state of Rhode Island and around the country. The time to act is now.”

With the Act on Climate now in statute, Acadia Center is urging the state to implement key findings from numerous state-led energy studies, including the recommendation to plan a heat pump conversion effort outlined in the Heating Sector Transformation process and to implement the bipartisan, regional Transportation and Climate Initiative, as recommended by the state’s Mobility Innovation Working Group.

Climate Change Already Impacting Rhode Island

General Assembly leaders in attendance at the bill signing ceremony spoke about the importance of Rhode Island developing plans to address climate change and the ongoing energy transition away from fossil fuels. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio told the crowd, “climate change is happening more rapidly than we anticipated. We have a number of pieces of legislation in the Senate and House that we will be addressing this year to make significant changes to our policies. Obviously, we are looking to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”

Senate Environment & Agriculture Committee Chair Dawn Euer, the lead sponsor of the legislation in her chamber, noted that Rhode Island is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, recalling that the site of the ceremony was underwater during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. “I think that we’ve seen the effects of climate change have been increasing and the reality is that the energy transition is coming.”

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi spoke about the moral imperative of climate action: “My colleagues in the House came to me and said we need to do this. We need to do this for the future of Rhode Island. We all have to do our part and we have to leave this state better than we found it.”

Indeed, Governor McKee noted that “With 400 miles of coastline, the Ocean State is on the front lines of the climate crisis.” McKee also told the crowd of supporters that climate change threatens the “tourism industry and the countless small businesses it supports. This is especially true right here in Newport.” Governor McKee also touted the economic opportunities Rhode Island could seize by taking steps to address climate change, referencing efforts at the federal level to advance a federal infrastructure plan. “Rhode Island must seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This means growing green jobs and promoting resiliency.”  

Next Steps

With the Act on Climate now in statute, Acadia Center is urging the state to implement key findings of the organization’s EnergyVision 2030 Roadmap and from numerous state-led energy studies. As part of the state’s initial climate action plan due by the end of 2022, Acadia Center will urge state policymakers to develop a heat pump conversion program as outlined in the Heating Sector Transformation process, to implement the regional Transportation and Climate Initiative recommended by the state’s Mobility Innovation Working Group, and to update the state’s Renewable Energy Standard to 100% by 2030. 

For more information:

Hank Webster
Rhode Island Director & Staff Attorney
401.276.0600 ext.402