Reflecting on the 2022 R.I. legislative session

Reflecting on the 2022 R.I. legislative session

by Topher Hamblett, Director of Advocacy

In January 2022, Save The Bay announced its priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Among them, we sought to secure appropriate resources (both funding and staffing) for the agencies charged with protecting our natural resources (the Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council); to advocate for funding for the Ocean State Climate Adaptation and Resilience Fund (OSCAR), which will fund projects that help municipalities adapt our infrastructure and habitats to climate change impacts; to protect shoreline access; reduce plastic pollution; and advocate for our CRMC reform agenda.

Now that the 2022 session has come to a close, we’re pleased to report that we made significant progress in all of these areas. In fact, in many ways, the session, and particularly the state budget, were the best they’ve been for Narragansett Bay in decades. Let’s run through our victories—and the areas where more work needs to be done—below:

  • A $4 million appropriation for OSCAR: Save The Bay’s five-year effort to secure funding for climate adaptation projects paid off with a $4 million appropriation for the Ocean State Climate Adaptation & Resilience fund. OSCAR will fund coastal marsh and habitat adaptation, river and floodplain restoration, and many other projects that will benefit the Bay watershed for years to come. These types of projects are a priority in Save The Bay’s 2022-2027 Strategic Plan, and will play a major role in the responsibilities of our two new policy team staff. Sponsors and Leaders:  Sen. Ryan Pearson, Sen. Dawn Euer, Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson, Rep. Deb Ruggiero.
  • Increases to Environmental Agency Capacity: Six new positions in permitting and enforcement, plus 10 other positions, were added to the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). The 16 new positions represent the first major investment in staff capacity in decades. Additionally, a much-needed policy analyst position was added to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). Sponsors and Leaders: Gov. Mckee, House Speaker Shekarchi, Sen. President Ruggiero
  • Progress in CRMC Reform: A full-time, independent hearing officer was added to CRMC. This is one of the pillars of Save The Bay’s CRMC reform agenda and a first, important step in making the agency more transparent and accountable. Save The Bay staff served on a House Study Commission on CRMC and pressed for this reform during the Commission’s eight-month deliberations. The Commission’s final report includes other Save The Bay reform priorities, which, while not acted on this session, built a strong foundation for reform efforts in 2023. Leader: CRMC Study Commission Chair: Rep. Deb Ruggiero.
  • CRMC Appointments: The Senate approved the nominations of two new members to the Council, both attorneys, and one of whom is Katy Robinson-Hall. This is a major win. Katy is an experienced environmental attorney (in both state service and private practice), an expert/professor of marine and coastal policy, and a member of Save The Bay’s Legal Committee. Her experience and integrity make her an ideal, and much-needed, Council member. Leaders: Governor McKee, Sen. Dawn Euer
  • $50 million Green Bond: This ballot measure, subject to voter approval in November, includes funding for several important Save The Bay priorities: $3 million for stormwater management, buffer and floodplain restoration projects; $3 million for open space acquisition; $2 million in matching grants for local land acquisition; and $16 million for the Municipal Resilience Program, which funds ecological resiliency and broad range of climate adaptation projects. Leaders: Governor Mckee; House & Senate Leadership.

Other wins, in partnership with our fellow environmental and community organizations:

  • A ban on using single-use plastic bags at retail establishments that will incentivize the use of reusable bags by consumers. (H 7065 Sub A, Rep. McEntee; S 2466, Sen. Ruggerio)
  • Setting limits on amount of “PFAs” – a group of toxic chemicals commonly found in packaging and products – that are becoming increasingly prevalent in drinking water and packaging. (PFAs are a growing concern among scientists and public health officials.) (H 7233, Rep. Cortvriend, and  S 2044 Sub A, Sen. Seveney)
  • The blocking of a bill that would have allowed high heat melting of plastics without requiring compliance with DEM solid waste regulations, shutting the public out of the permitting process. This bill also limited such facilities to sites within one mile of state-owned properties, which would include environmental justice communities. Save The Bay joined with many other groups, including the South Providence Neighborhood Association and Washington Park Improvement Association, in opposition. (H 8089, Sen. Lombardo & S 2788A, Rep. Casey)

Other areas of progress:

  • Shoreline Access: A bill to protect and restore the public’s constitutional right to access along shore won unanimous House passage but stalled in the Senate. The bill defines the “public shore” as a recognizable high-tide mark (or seaweed line) plus 6’ landward. Save The Bay served on the Shoreline Access Study Commission whose Final Report & Recommendations served as the basis for the bill. Save The Bay worked with many organizations and individuals on this campaign and will resume our efforts in 2023. (H 8055 Sub AReps. Cortvriend and Filipi)
  • Solar Siting: A House bill to remove incentives for clear-cutting forests for large-scale solar developments, and strengthen incentives for putting solar arrays in already-disturbed/developed areas, did not pass. We will continue to advocate for legislation and protection that encourage responsibly-sited green energy development. (H 7531, Rep. Speakman)

We’d like to extend thanks and congratulations to the many organizations that worked together to make the 2022 legislative session a successful one for Rhode Island’s environment, including The Audubon Society of RI, The Nature Conservancy, Grow Smart RI, Conservation Law Foundation, RI Land Trust Council, the Narragansett Indian Tribe, Clean Water Action – RI, the Acadia Center, Green Energy Consumer’s Alliance, R.I. Saltwater Anglers Association, R.I. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Friends of the Waterfront, Clean Ocean Access, and the Environment Council of R.I.