PROVIDENCE — The General Assembly gave final passage to legislation that will lead the state in implementing consistent environmental standards for wetlands and septic systems, the state’s lawmaking body announced on Thursday. The process will also enable the contribution of local input in environmental policy decision-making.
The House bill sponsor Rep. Patricia A. Serpa said she was concerned that dissimilar environmental standards between municipalities — many of which have established more stringent septic disposal standards to protect groundwater, wetlands, drinking supplies and other natural resources — may discourage businesses and property owners, especially when coupled with the lack of a uniform process.
“Clear, predictable and reliable standards are needed to foster a business climate that will grow our economy while ensuring the protection of our natural resources,” said Serpa in prepared remarks.
Sen. Eric P. Lynch, a democrat from district 29, sponsored the Senate bill. Both bills will be submitted to Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee for consideration.
Lynch emphasized the necessity of consistent environmental standards for a business-friendly state, noting that: “Uniformity is important for businesses thinking about moving into Rhode Island and this legislation, and the work of the task force it creates, will move us toward that goal.”
The legislation stipulates that the R.I. Division of Planning establish a task force to prepare and submit a report on watershed planning and onsite wastewater treatment systems regulation. The report, to be submitted to the governor and General Assembly leaders by Dec. 31, 2014, will suggest measures that seek to balance the state’s need for economic development with the protection of environmental resources.
Legislation that sets statewide standards based on that report is expected to be introduced by January 2015.
Under the legislation, task force members would include the director of the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, the director of the Office of Regulatory Reform, the executive director of the Coastal Resources Management Council, representatives of an environmental entity and a builders’ trade association, at least two municipal representatives, at least two representatives of the business community, at least one civil engineer or environmental engineer with experience in onsite wastewater treatment systems and wetlands regulation and one wetlands biologist.