Timmons Roberts of the Brooking Institution has highlighted that almost every year since 2008, a state representative in Rhode Island has introduced the ‘Climate Solutions Act’, which lays out a series of targets for emissions reduction in the state. However, each year, the bill has died in committee.
Roberts emphasises that the proposals failure isn’t because Representative Art Handy is in the minority party. Rhode Island is a state with an approximately 90% Democrat legislature. It wasn’t a hostile committee that he had to make it through either – Handy himself chaired the House Environment Committee.
Furthermore, Rhode Island wouldn’t be way out in front of other states: Massachusetts passed identical wording to the Rhode Island bill in 2008, establishing a program that is in part credited with lowering the state’s emissions, brining over a billion dollars in economic benefits, and generating more than 12 000 new jobs. Another neighbouring state, Connecticut, has also passed climate targets and begun statewide efforts to reduce its emissions.
However, Rhode Island’s legislative leadership remained consistently concerned with the failing economy, and climate legislation was seen as both a burden on business and underfunded and understaffed state agencies.
Reframing climate legislation
After yet another rejection of the proposed act in 2013, Handy came up with a new idea for the future. He thought, given major storm driven river flooding in March 2010, and the impacts of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy in 2011 and 2012, that preparing the state for future disasters was a much easier sell.
Handy’s new idea for the 2014 session was to wrap adaptation efforts around risk mitigation targets, which would be sensible parts of an effort to save families and businesses money with greater efficiency. Since the state produces none of its own fossil fuels, every dollar sent on heating oil, natural gas, electricity and gasoline flow quickly out of the state. Money spent on insulating homes, installing wind, solar and geothermal creates immediate jobs in the state, generates payroll taxes, and staunches the flow of cash out of the state for fossil fuels. Under this way of thinking, climate change preparation and emissions reductions all become the logical and responsible thing to do.
The revised act, renamed the Resilient Rhode Island Act ultimately passed out of committees in both houses and has since been approved on the floor of both chambers.
Aligning climate, business and economic goals
According to Roberts, the lesson from Rhode Island in the 2014 legislative session is that climate mitigation and adaptation need to be considered together right from the start, For planning at the local and state level, there is little doubt that this is the logical way to confront the dual needs of climate change, for immediate protection against the storms and for the dramatic decarbonisation of the economy and institutions. Immediate and longer-term climate solutions are all business solutions in a resilient economy.
Adapted from a report by Emma McAleavey.
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