Save The Bay’s 2023 Legislative Priorities

Save The Bay’s 2023 Legislative Priorities

by Topher Hamblett, director of advocacy

The Rhode Island General Assembly’s 2023 session will get underway on January 3. As always, Save The Bay will be ready to journey to the statehouse to protect the legislative progress we’ve made and build upon recent victories that support our mission to protect and improve Narragansett Bay—victories such as the 2022 funding of the Ocean Climate Adaptation & Resilience Fund, and the funding of a full-time hearing officer for the Coastal Resources Management Council (one of the pillars of Save The Bay’s CRMC reform agenda).   

While Save The Bay staff are at the ready to respond to a variety of legislative issues as they emerge throughout the session, we have identified three priorities that sit at the center of this year’s efforts:  

CRMC Reform
Save The Bay will pursue two major reforms: 

    • The addition of a full-time staff attorney for the agency who will counsel and represent the staff at agency hearings, assist in the development of regulations, respond to legislative proposals, and provide other legal advice in agency matters. The staff attorney would not represent other clients and be dedicated solely to representing Rhode Island’s coastal resources. The current arrangement—one that involves hiring a private practice attorney who is free to have other clients and interests—leaves staff without representation and invites conflicts of interest. 
    • Changing the role of the Council from a decision-making body to an advisory one.  Today, 9 of 10 Council members are politically-appointed volunteers who are not required to have expertise in coastal matters, yet have immense power to shape the future of our coastal environment.  The recent RI Supreme Court rejection of the deal between Champlin’s Marina and the Council is a glaring reminder of the need to reform this deeply-flawed structure.

      Read Save The Bay’s complete case for CRMC reform on page 12 of our Spring 2021 issue of Tides Magazine.

Shoreline Access
Save The Bay’s vision is a “fishable, swimmable, healthy Narragansett Bay, accessible to all.”  Rhode Islanders have a constitutional right to walk along and use the state’s coastline. Past court decisions have made it impossible for the public to know exactly where the “shoreline” is and led to conflicts among waterfront property owners and beachgoers. While a 2022 bill to clarify exactly where the public can enjoy the shoreline won unanimous House passage, the Senate did not take it up for consideration. In 2023, we aim to get this important legislation across the finish line. 

Solar Siting Reform
The climate crisis demands that fossil fuels be replaced with renewable energy as quickly as possible. That being said, it’s important that this valuable progress does not happen at the expense of RI’s forests, which help keep river and stream waters cool; protect groundwater and freshwater habitats; help keep the fresh waters that flow into Narragansett Bay clean and healthy; and store the carbon that fossil fuel use creates.  Unfortunately, R.I. state energy laws incentivize the clear-cutting of forests for large-scale solar energy facilities.  Save The Bay will work with our partners on legislation to protect the most important forests in Rhode Island from clear-cutting, and steer solar energy siting to already developed areas. 

Beyond these priorities, Save The Bay anticipates supporting the passage of a range of environmental legislation and remaining vigilant about protecting harmful proposals, including the following:   

  • Reducing Plastics Pollution
    We look forward to supporting legislation that would establish a bottle and can deposit program.  Four New England states already have this program, which can lead to marked reductions in plastic pollution of our shoreline waters.
  • Environmental Justice
    We expect to see the re-introduction of the Environmental Justice Act, which will require proposals by polluting facilities to consider the cumulative impact of such development on nearby communities, such as Providence’s South Side, that are already burdened by pollution. 
  • Protecting the Bay
    Stopping proposals that threaten the Bay, the environment, and local communities
    We will also be on the lookout for legislation that could threaten the health of Narragansett Bay and the environment. 

While we’re ready to jump into action this session, we can’t make progress alone! You can help us achieve these legislative priorities by signing up for our Action Alerts, which provide important updates and easy-to-use guidance on communicating with your elected officials. We hope you’ll join us by using your voice to protect Narragansett Bay!