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Civic Assessment Of Resilient RI Act Finds State Needs To Do More To Address Climate Change

2019 marks the five-year anniversary of the Resilient Rhode Island Act. The law set state targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but as at least one group believes the law hasn’t done enough.

One of the major criticisms of the law's greenhouse gas reduction targets is that they are non-binding, which means no one can be held accountable if they aren’t met.

That’s one issue raised in a new assessment of the act from the Civic Alliance for a Cooler Rhode Island, a local group of scientists and advocates.

Janet Coit, director of Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management, agreed it is a problem to have non-binding targets because the climate is changing faster than was once expected.

"In terms of the urgency of taking action that’s going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help us adapt to warming air temperatures, warming water, more intense rain, sea level rise, we need to amp it up," Coit said.

Coit said she's been in talks with Governor Gina Raimondo and her staff to make the targets enforceable.

Coit added the state needs to do more to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, which is Rhode Island's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Nine states, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut, along with Washington, D.C., agreed earlier this week to develop a plan to cap emissions coming from the transportation system. That plan is expected to be completed within the next year.

Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council

The Resilient Rhode Island Act established the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4), a state-appointed council of twelve state agencies responsible for addressing climate change.

Ken Payne, president of the Civic Alliance for a Cooler Rhode Island and author of the assessment, said the EC4 has done great work, including putting together a "good public resource" of its activity on its website.

However, Payne said there's room for improvement.

"We need to move beyond business as usual," he said. "There are things that the EC4 was authorized to do by statute but hasn't pushed hard on yet that would move us beyond that business-as-usual realm."

The EC4 releases an annual report summarizing work by the state to combat climate change.

However, Payne said the council is also required to include in their report a section of findings that show what's happening environmentally in the state and recommendations for better-addressing the problem, but the EC4 hasn't included that yet.  

Coit, who also chairs the EC4, said she didn’t realize that portion of the report was missing.

"I think it is more of an oversight that in working to put (the reports) together that we just left that off and we can remedy that," Coit said.

The civic alliance’s assessment also said the EC4 needs to call on its science and technology advisory board to evaluate Rhode Island’s climate change policies, and that the EC4 needs to be granted the power to implement a plan for addressing climate change.

The Providence River
The Providence River