Business community joins together to respond to overreaching legislation

Business community joins together to respond to overreaching legislation

Climate change is important to all Rhode Islanders, and the business community supports efforts to reduce emissions. As a business community, we are committed to do our share to improve the climate we all live and work in. At the same time, we support thorough discussions that include complete economic analyses and understanding of the impact of the 2021 Act on Climate. This is why we do not support H.5445 SubA and S.78 SubA as currently drafted. We do however support the recent amendment suggested by Gov. Dan McKee as a compromise.

To set the stage, Rhode Island’s current law has greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets of 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, 45 percent by 2035 and 80 percent by 2050. State agencies are already working to meet these goals. Rhode Island reduced its energy use by making buildings more energy efficient, meeting the first goal. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) states, “Rhode Island consumes less energy on a per capita basis than any other state. Rhode Island’s total carbon dioxide emissions were the second-lowest among all states in 2017.” (updated August 20, 2020). We should be proud of these accomplishments.

Both H.5445 SubA and S.78 SubA speed up the target dates to 45 percent by 2030, 80 percent by 2040 and net zero by 2050. The bills make the targets mandatory and require state regulators to promulgate rules necessary to meet these targets, no matter what the cost or feasibility, without General Assembly oversight. The bills then give any individual or organization the right to sue the state in superior court, to comply with the mandates regardless of the impact. If the plaintiff wins, the state must pay attorney fees and expert witness fees, and the regulators must move forward to meet the emission target.

At a DEM heating sector meeting, the state’s consultant, The Brattle Group, commented, that meeting the 80 percent by 2040 “likely means (near) full decarbonization of residential and commercial heat.” To reach 80 percent GHG reduction by 2050 (2040 under H.5445 SubA and S.78 SubA) all homes and commercial buildings will have to switch to geothermal heating systems or electric heat pumps, unless new technology surfaces. No commercial cost estimates were provided, and Brattle Group said, “Residential deep energy retrofit” could cost between $50,000 and $100,000 per housing unit. Not all housing units will require a deep retrofit, but our state’s housing stock is aging, and aging buildings are more likely to require a new heating system, better insulation, efficient windows, etc. To reach 80 percent reduction, all vehicles have to switch to electric. This is from the consultant hired by the state to determine ways to meet the required emission levels.

We along with others are asking questions that have not been answered. “How does Rhode Island obtain enough electricity, without using natural gas, to meet the increase in demand should residents and businesses have to change heating systems and vehicles?” According to EIA, in 2020, 89.2 percent of Rhode Island’s electricity generation was obtained through the use of natural gas, which must be greatly reduced and eventually eliminated under this legislation. Even the PUC has raised questions about the ability to meet the electric needs.

So far, the state’s experts have suggested it will take full electrification of our businesses, homes, and vehicles within 19 years if H.5445 SubA and S.78 SubA become law. This mandatory target, which allows any individual or organization to file a lawsuit, places the fate of all Rhode Islanders in the hands of individuals with no accountability to the voters.

The governor’s proposal to limit the ability to sue to the attorney general, provides some level of checks and balances on the process, and will help the state to avoid wasting precious revenue on numerous lawsuits.

A total of 19 groups are signing onto this letter, including: The Northern R.I. Chamber of Commerce, Associated Builders and Contractors Rhode Island, Central R.I. Chamber of Commerce, East Bay Chamber of Commerce, East Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, East Providence Chamber of Commerce, Energy Marketers Association, Narragansett Chamber of Commerce, North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce, R.I. Association of Realtors, R.I. Business Group on Health, R.I. Hospitality Association, R.I. Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, R.I. Manufacturers Association, R.I. Society of Certified Public Accountants, R.I. Small Business Economic Summit Regulations Subcommittee, R.I. Small Business Economic Summit Tax and Budget Committee, Southern R.I. Chamber of Commerce, and R.I. Staffing Association.