Democratic rivals urge Governor McKee to sign Rhode Island climate bill – The Boston
Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, who has $887,153 in his campaign account as he eyes the 2022 governor’s race, issued a statement on Tuesday morning, backing the bill and calling for McKee to sign the bill in its current form.
“The City of Providence wholeheartedly supports this legislation and what it means for our community,” Elorza said. “We respectfully encourage both chambers to vote in support and the governor to subsequently sign the 2021 Act on Climate bill unchanged.”
In a letter to a House committee, McKee said that only the state attorney general should have that power to sue to make the state take action to comply with the law. But Elorza said, “It is on all of us to ensure that the government is held accountable to deliver on the scientific targets needed to tackle the climate crisis.”
Citizen lawsuit provisions are a “common and vital piece” of environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, Elorza said. “The enforcement provision in this bill empowers constituents and protects the best interests of the public, but also sets limits on the litigation that can be filed against the state,” he said.
Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, who has $415,532 in her campaign account as she considers running for governor in 2022, sent a letter to House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi on Monday, backing the bill.
The Act on Climate would allow Rhode Island to take advantage of federal funding proposed in the American Jobs Plan, Gorbea said. “This legislation is also an important step forward in acknowledging the harmful environmental consequences that have disproportionately affected our state’s most vulnerable communities,” she wrote.
Gorbea said she has “heard concerns” about the bill exposing the state to more lawsuits. But she said, “Meritless litigation is routinely thrown out by our courts with little to no burden on our justice system. If a citizen successfully challenges state action, then the state simply must follow the law.”
General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who has more than $1 million in his campaign account as he weighs a run for governor in 2022, on Tuesday said he was an early supporter of the Act on Climate and testified in its favor.
“I support the Act on Climate because we have a tremendous opportunity to create thousands of jobs as we transition to a green economy and protect the state from the impact of climate change at the same time,” he said.
Regarding McKee’s concerns, Magaziner said that other environmental laws allow citizen lawsuits.
“If elected officials don’t do what they are supposed to do to ensure good air or water quality, then the citizens have a legal avenue available to ensure they follow the law,” he said. “So citizens should have the same right in ensuring officials meet climate targets. I hope the governor comes around and signs the bill.”
The legislation, introduced by Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Dawn Euer and Representative Lauren H. Carson, sets mandatory goals for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 80 percent below those levels by 2040, and at “net-zero emissions” by 2050.
The legislation creates a Climate Change Coordinating Council, which includes officials from a range of state agencies, and requires the council to come up with a plan to hit those carbon-reduction targets. And it makes those targets mandatory, allowing Rhode Island residents, organizations, or the attorney general to file a lawsuit in state Superior Court to enforce provisions of the proposed law.