Anchor Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Last Monday, the Rescue Rhode Island Act had its first hearing at the state legislature. This act addresses pandemic recovery as well as the future of Rhode Island with a focus on environmental justice and equality. The legislation would be the first step in pursuing a Green New Deal, the congressional resolution for tackling climate change introduced by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, in Rhode Island.
The Rescue Rhode Island Act is a series of three bills. The first bill focuses on green housing, the second focuses on accessible and sustainably produced food and the third focuses on protecting clean water and air. All three bills promise to provide a just transition for workers. If passed, the policy could serve as a model for other states to simultaneously address the pandemic, unemployment, racial injustice and the climate crisis.
The act was introduced by the Renew Rhode Island coalition, a coalition composed of over 25 grassroots organizations, including advocates for environmental justice, racial justice, gender equality and labor unions. Members of the coalition who have supported the legislation in the General Assembly are; Sen. Tina Mack (D-Providence), Sen. Jonathan Acosta (D-Central Falls), Sen. Kendra Anderson (D-Warwick) and Reps. David Morales (D-Providence) and Brianna Henries (D-East Providence). All five ran as part of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative which required candidates to support the adoption of the Green New Deal.
The Renew Rhode Island coalition is co-chaired by Monica Huertas, executive director of The People’s Port Authority and Emma Bouton, an organizer for the Sunrise Movement. The organization is part of the larger, regional Renew New England coalition
The first bill (S0219, H6074) targets Rhode Island’s ongoing housing crisis that has left many unable to afford housing, evicted and/or unable to pay for their utilities. The Rescue Rhode Island bill seeks to launch the Housing Jobs Construction Program. According to a coalition press release, the program will spend $200 million annually and fund “thousands of high-quality, energy-efficient residential apartments across the state that are equipped with rooftop solar panels.” These apartments would be available to lower and middle-class Rhode Islanders, with rent not exceeding 20% of their annual income.
Additionally, the bill would stimulate the economy and create thousands of new jobs for Rhode Islanders through the Solar Jobs Program, which would install rooftop solar panels for free on tens of thousands of low-income homes. This would simultaneously reduce carbon emissions and dramatically reduce utility bills.
The second bill (S0468, H5955) addresses both food insecurity in Rhode Island and the lack of sustainable practices from the agricultural firms that the majority of the food in Rhode Island comes from. Food insecurity has been exacerbated since COVID-19. According to a status report on Hunger in Rhode Island conducted by the R.I. Community Food Bank last year, 1 in 4 of Rhode Island households are struggling to put food on the table. This bill addresses these issues by “developing a network of community land trusts … that will pay workers … to produce local food in ecologically sustainable ways.” These urban gardens would be democratically controlled by individual communities and create jobs by locals to care for them. Additionally, the bill claims the state will be required to subsidize local farms that use regenerative agricultural practices.
The third bill (S0540, H5674) centers on the protection of clean air and water, particularly for marginalized communities, who are most likely to suffer health issues due to extreme corporate pollution. The legislation would spend $25 million annually on establishing Green Justice Zones in severely polluted areas, the first encompassing Washington Park and the South Side of Providence. These Green Justice Zones would be created by removing corporate polluters such as petroleum refineries and hazardous waste from those areas.
The bill also provides funding for environmental remediation projects like replacing lead pipes and installing air filtration systems. To address job losses that could occur by removing polluters, members of these communities and those currently employed by hazardous industries will be prioritized for during the hiring process. If the bill is adopted, a Just Transition Program would be adopted. This program would provide free job retraining and apprenticeship programs for those formerly employed by polluting industries.
Renew Rhode Island anticipates three bills will cost the state a total of $300 million annually, The coalition proposed funding for the legislation through an increase in the top marginal tax rate by 5% and increasing the tax on high-end real estate transactions by 1.5%.
Proponents of the Rescue Rhode Island Act encourage those who want to see the policy passed to get involved and contact their legislators to demand their support for the bills.
A full legislative summary of the bills can be read here.