Chapter 119


Enacted 06/22/10





     Introduced By: Representatives Segal, and Fierro

     Date Introduced: February 25, 2010    


It is enacted by the General Assembly as follows:


     SECTION 1. Title 23 of the General Laws entitled "HEALTH AND SAFETY" is hereby

amended by adding thereto the following chapter:





     23-84-1. Short title. This chapter shall be known and may be cited as “The Rhode

Island Climate Risk Reduction Act of 2010.”


     23-84-2. Legislative findings. -- It is hereby found and declared by the general assembly

as follows:

      (1) Climate change impacts have already arrived in Rhode Island. Average temperatures

in the state have increased by one point five degrees Fahrenheit (1.5?F) since 1970 and mean

winter temperatures in the state are up by four degrees Fahrenheit (4?F). The annual mean surface

temperature of Narragansett Bay has increased two point seven degrees Fahrenheit (2.7?F) since

the 1960s. Droughts are becoming longer and more frequent, storms cause worse flooding, and

the sea level is measurably rising over eight inches (8") since 1930 at an accelerated rate. Gases

released by the consumption of fossil fuels explain most of these trends very well; since these

gases stay in the atmosphere and trap heat for decades, the residents of Rhode Island are being

locked into serious disruptions in their way of life.

     (2) If emissions continue at the current high rate, the annual number of days over ninety

degrees Fahrenheit (90?F) is expected to grow sharply from about five (5) per year today to about

fifty (50) to sixty (60) per year at the end of the century. Rhode Island is expected to experience

roughly twenty-five (25) days over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit (100?F) every summer if we

continue on a high emissions pathway. Under these scenarios, Rhode Island’s summer heat index

in 2100 will resemble Georgia’s current summers. Such scenarios could see Rhode Island seas

rise three (3) to five (5) feet by 2100. Increased flooding and droughts are widely recognized in

climate models to dominate Rhode Island's expected weather patterns as the potential for more

intense storms increases.

     (3) Rhode Island’s residents and the ecosystems that sustain us face three (3) main types

of increasing risks: (i) Rising temperatures (which put stress on human health and ecosystems);

(ii) More extreme weather (bringing more frequent heavy thunderstorms and flooding, heat waves

and more intense coastal storms and hurricanes); and (iii) Flooding and damage to homes,

businesses, public infrastructure and coastal habitats along the state’s over four hundred (400)

miles of coastline by storm surges and rising sea levels.

     (4) While Rhode Island has taken leadership in developing and adopting a sea level rise

policy and draft guidelines, identifying climate issues within the state's coastal program and its

special area management plans and compiling existing research on various trends associated with

climate change, there is no comprehensive state-wide assessment of projected impacts of climate

change to human health and safety, economic and natural resources of the state. Many states in

the region have begun to develop commission and statewide strategies for climate change.

     (5) Communities around the United States and the world are beginning to address these

increased risks by adjusting their building codes, improving and updating their emergency plans,

identifying their greatest vulnerabilities and prioritizing actions to address them and incorporating

climate change projections in planning for long-term infrastructure investments. Rhode Island can

learn from and build upon these efforts. Some communities are even discovering opportunities in

this crisis to address longstanding vulnerabilities, and the potential to develop new industries to

supply adaptation technology and advice to communities.

     (6) Natural ecosystems and habitats, both coastal and upland, provide critical ecosystem

services including, fisheries habitat, drinking water, and flood protection. These resources play

an important role in minimizing risks and hazard exposure to climate change impacts such as

coastal and riverline flooding. Forested watersheds provide increased protection from the impacts

of both flooding and droughts, absorbing water during storm events, and releasing it slowly over


     (7) Tree canopy cover is a cost-effective adaptation to climate change, particularly in the

urban environment. In particular, increasing urban tree canopy cover has been found to reduce

summer high temperatures, reduce energy consumption, have a positive impact on stormwater

management and air quality, and improve groundwater quality. Increasing tree canopy cover will

also help the state achieve its goal of mitigating carbon dioxide emissions by enhancing biotic

sequestration and reducing energy consumption.

     (8) An October 2008 study by the National Research Council found that some of the

benefits of green infrastructure include a reduction of stormwater runoff, surface water discharge,

stormwater pollution and stormwater flows.

      (9) While increasing the urban tree canopy is critical to reducing the urban heat island

effect, strategies incorporating other forms of green infrastructure, including green roofs and

walls, hold significant cooling potential; a 2007 study in Bioscience revealed that if the city of

Toronto greened fifty percent (50%) of its roof space, the temperature of the entire city would

drop by two degrees Fahrenheit (2?F), and because there is more wall space than roof space, green

facades and living walls are ideal supplements.

     (10) Existing federal programs and potential federal climate change legislation may

provide significant funding and other resources to help states and localities begin planning and

taking adaptation actions. To receive these funds, state governments may be required to complete

climate change response plans; this chapter seeks to assist the state in beginning the process of

preparing such a plan.

     (11) This chapter seeks to protect the historic culture, heritage, economy, public

infrastructure, natural resources and the current and future well-being of the population of the

State of Rhode Island while helping move the state to an active response to climate change

impacts by identifying some of the most critical issues that will have to be addressed, and by

investigating and implementing cost-effective solutions and/or adaptation strategies for the state

and its municipalities.


     23-84-3. Creation of The Rhode Island Climate Change Commission. – (a) There is

hereby created an independent commission known as "The Rhode Island Climate Change

Commission" consisting of twenty-eight (28) members as follows: three (3) of whom shall be

members of the senate, to be appointed by the senate president, not more than two (2) from the

same political party; three (3) of whom shall be members of the house of representatives, to be

appointed by the speaker of the house not more than two (2) from the same political party; one

of whom shall be the director of the department of environmental management, or his or her

designee; one of whom shall be the executive director of the coastal resources management

council, or his or her designee; one of whom shall be the director of the department of

transportation, or his or her designee; one of whom shall be the chair of the Rhode Island bays,

rivers, and watersheds coordination team; one of whom shall be the director of the Rhode Island

department of health, or his or her designee; one of whom shall be the chief of staff of the water

resources board, or his or her designee; one of whom shall be the director of the division of

planning, or his or her designee; one of whom shall be the state building commissioner, or his or

her designee; one of whom shall be the director of the Rhode Island emergency management

agency, or his or her designee; two (2) of whom shall represent municipal governments of coastal

municipalities one appointed by the senate president and one appointed by the speaker of the

house; two (2) of whom shall be representatives of environmental non-profit organizations,

appointed by the environment council of Rhode Island; two (2) of whom shall be representatives

of business, one designated by the greater Providence chamber of commerce and one designated

by the Rhode Island chamber of commerce coalition; two (2) of whom shall be representatives of

higher education institutions, one appointed by the board of governors for higher education and

one appointed by the association of independent colleges and universities of Rhode Island; one of

whom shall be a representative of a utility distribution company having greater than one hundred

thousand (100,000) customers to be appointed by the senate president; one of whom shall be the

executive director of the Rhode Island realtors association, or his or her designee; one of whom

shall be the executive director of the Rhode Island builders association, or his or her designee;

one of whom shall be the executive director of the American institute of architects of Rhode

Island, or his or her designee; and one of whom shall represent the medical profession, including,

but not limited to, a doctor or nurse, to be appointed by the speaker of the house.

     (b) The purposes of the commission shall be to study the projected impacts of climate

change on Rhode Island, to identify and report methods of adapting to these climate change

impacts in order to reduce likely harm and increase economic and ecosystem sustainability, and

to identify potential mechanisms to mainstream climate adaptation into existing state and

municipal programs including, but not limited to, policies plans, infrastructure development and


     (c) The commission shall support its purposes by undertaking the following duties

including but not limited to:

     (1) Recommending how to mainstream climate change, using a climate “lens”, into

existing state and local programs, policies and standards, and identify potential options to

incorporate adaptation strategies.

     (2) Compiling existing studies, research and programs relevant to climate change trends

and potential impacts in Rhode Island and identifying gaps in the research available.

     (3) Conducting a comprehensive overview of the risks Rhode Island may face as a result

of rising air and water temperatures and sea level, increased storminess, and more intense

droughts and rainfall events.

     (4) Investigating the vulnerability of critical roads, bridges, protection infrastructure such

as hurricane barriers, dams, and revetments, and public facilities such as hospitals, schools,

sewage treatment plants, parks and beaches and other critical utilities to sea level rise, increased

flooding and extended extreme summer heat.

     (5) Exploring potential changes to floodplains and ways to notify homeowners, renters

and commercial property owners of not only a property’s flooding history but also its expected

risk under projected levels of climate change and sea level rise.

     (6) Assessing ecosystem impacts such as salt marshes, forests, and urban tree canopy and

researching tree and plant species that will be most resilient to climate change expected in Rhode

Island, as well as ways to secure additional funding to support the expansion of urban tree canopy

to thirty percent (30%).

     (7) Identifying potential ecosystem based adaptation options where conservation or

restoration of natural ecosystems can provide key ecosystems services by minimizing risks and

hazards from flooding and drought cycles.

     (8) Identifying ways to increase Rhode Islanders’ access to critical community health

services that are expected to become more important as a result of projected climate impacts.

     (9) Investigating potential impacts from non-point source pollution due to hydrological

changes including stormwater runoff options for the Phase 2 Narragansett Bay Commission’s

Combined Sewer Overflow project, and implementing small-scale projects such as increasing the

percentage of pervious surfaces in residential areas such as yards and gardens.

     (10) Exploring possibilities to make funds or low interest loans available for

governmental entities, non-profit entities and businesses to implement adaptation strategies,

including green infrastructure projects on their properties, including green roofs, walls, and

bioretention areas.

     (11) Investigating possibilities to expand energy efficiency and weatherization programs

as an adaptation option.

     (12) Reviewing, among other things, existing local ordinances, provisions adopted by

associations, deed restrictions, covenants, declarations or similar binding agreements, which

prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the installation of solar collectors, clotheslines,

weatherization improvements, gardens or other energy devices based on renewable resources and

proposing alternatives that would eliminate said prohibitions and authorize these types of uses as

climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies for local implementation.

     (13) Reviewing possibilities to amend regulations to allow street parking to reduce

impervious surfaces in urban areas and runoff.

     (14) Investigating how to support local agriculture including urban community gardens,

and encouraging municipalities to foster neighborhood gardens in empty lots and parks.

     (15) Developing a plan to expand access to cooling and relief centers by extending hours

at libraries, community centers and opening pools to the public.

     (16) Identifying examples and options for outreach and communication on climate

change and adaptation options and recommending opportunities for coordinated outreach

programs within Rhode Island.

     (d) One senator and one representative appointed to the commission shall serve as co-

chairs and shall call the first meeting of the commission. Vacancies shall be filled in like manner

as the original appointment. The membership of the commission shall receive no compensation

for their services. All departments and agencies of the state shall furnish such advice and

information, documentary and otherwise, to the commission and its agents as is deemed

necessary or desirable by the commission to facilitate the purposes of this chapter. The joint

committee on legislative services is hereby authorized and directed to provide suitable quarters

for the commission.

     (e) The commission shall provide a report of its findings and recommendations to the

governor and the general assembly no later than March 1, 2011, and every March 1 thereafter.


      SECTION 2. This act shall take effect upon passage.



LC01646/SUB A