Close to 50 environmental advocates are expected at the State House this evening to show their support of Representative Art Handy’s Resilient Rhode Island Act during its first hearing before the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The act’s purpose is to ensure the state is prepared for the effects of climate change on infrastructure and economy.
Led by the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club, the community advocates put together a petition requesting state legislators support this act; as of yesterday afternoon, the petition had 245 signatures, but Sierra Club program manager Abel Collins expected to have close to 300 by the rise of the House at 4:30 p.m. today.
Collins predicted 50 people, including students, scientists, environmentalists and business owners, would attend today’s hearing as either witnesses or to express their support of the legislation by testifying. The group is planning to meet at 4:30 p.m. in Room 205 at the State House to sign up to speak; the petition will also be available to sign.
“It’s a fantastic piece of legislation,” said Collins. “It’s innovative in terms of climate change legislation I’ve seen.”
According to a website on the act, www.resilientri.org, the legislation is aimed at making Rhode Island’s economy and society “resilient in the face of nearly certain, but not precisely predictable, effects of climate change.”
Some predicted effects of climate change for Rhode Island listed on the website are rising sea levels, increased coastal and inland flooding from more intense storms, extended drought and longer, more intense heat waves.
“The real objective here is to get the planning infrastructure in place to look at where our vulnerabilities are,” said Handy in a phone interview yesterday. “Where are the risks?”
Part of this legislation would put a science-based advisory group in place to advise the state, as well as cities and towns, how best to address the risks climate change poses to the communities based on infrastructure quality and landscape.
“What I have seen is there is a consensus among the science community that this is happening,” said Handy.
The dispute now is on what the exact changes will be: will there be more storms, will there be more drought, etc.
Handy hopes that the advisory group would work with or be the Rhode Island Executive Climate Change Council, formed by Governor Lincoln Chafee last month.
“I don’t want to have to repeat work,” added Handy.
He sees this process as having the experts evaluate the state’s needs so blueprints will include the needs to combat the effects of climate change. He wants “business as usual” to include this type of environmental planning.
Handy adds that the state was lucky that Hurricane Sandy did not cause as much damage to Rhode Island as it could have if the tide was higher.
“We need to learn from it and get ready for next time,” said Handy, explaining that we need to know how to build something better before it gets knocked down.
The cooperation between government agencies is a reason Collins and the Sierra Club like this new legislation; it stops the different areas from going in every different direction.
Collins said one of the biggest reasons to support this legislation is the way it addresses climate change adaptation, a new focus in this area.
“Climate change is now happening. We’re seeing the impacts now,” said Collins.
That includes planning potential infrastructure changes such as buffer zones on the coast, open areas in flood zones and more shade in elevated areas in the event of prolonged heat waves.
“There’s thousands of visions of what climate adaptation is going to look like,” said Collins.
But Handy expressed that this bill does not come from a place of fear.
“This is an opportunity. We can be the place to learn to adapt and prepare,” said Handy. “We need to not be afraid to face this opportunity for Rhode Island to be on the forefront of this.”
The results of passing this legislation could also provide an area of certainty for businesses, according to Collins; for example, knowing a plan is in place to address areas at risk from flooding or storm surges can help insurance companies.
“Insurance companies are looking at climate adaptation,” said Collins. “Risk is increasing dramatically for coastal areas.”
Collins also applauded the legislation for proposing an 85 percent carbon reduction (from levels recorded in 1990) by 2050.
Another key aspect of this legislation is the support it provides the economy and job creation. For starters, by looking at ways to address climate change, there will need to be investment in the renewable energy fields.
“It’s a growth area we should be focused on,” said Collins.
There will also be a need for people to lay out the frameworks for clean energy incentives and to build the adapted infrastructure needs to minimize the impact of storm surges, flooding or other results of climate change.
“This is our opportunity to be prepared,” said Collins.
Preparation is also a key for Handy.
“The more we prepare and the less we live in denial, the better off we will be,” he said.
The committee hearing regarding the bill is scheduled to start directly after the rise of the House today at 4:30 p.m.