PROVIDENCE — Six months after passage of the Act on Climate, the state council charged with implementing the new law met Thursday to outline the next steps in slashing Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Gov. Dan McKee opened the meeting of the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council by emphasizing his commitment to the legislation he signed into law last March that requires the state to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.
“When I was sworn in in March as governor, one of my first acts was to sign the Act on Climate,” he said. “I think it was an important step forward. Many things were being done in the state relative to climate, but I don’t know of anything more important than working with this committee to make sure that we fulfill the statute that was passed.”
Environmental advocates had long pushed for the law, complaining that the state was lagging its neighbors on climate policy because its emissions-reduction targets, as enshrined in the 2014 Resilient Rhode Island Act, were aspirational, not mandatory.
They heralded passage of the Act on Climate, which sets out an enforceable net-zero goal while also putting in place interim targets along the way. It’s seen as the foundation of the efforts to reduce Rhode Island’s reliance on fossil fuels and drive development of cleaner renewable sources of energy.
“It really is going to create a new sense of urgency,” said Terry Gray, acting director of the Department of Environmental Management and the new chair of the climate change council.
The council is tasked with coming up with the plans to meet the goals. The group, which includes representatives from across state government, is set to increase the frequency of its meetings from every quarter to every month. The change was made at McKee’s request, and he also asked the council to start holding meetings at different locations around the state, rather than scheduling them all at the DEM’s headquarters in Providence.
The first order of business for the council will be updating the state’s greenhouse gas reduction plan, which was written in 2016. A revised plan is due by Dec. 31, 2022.
A more sweeping strategic plan on climate change will follow in 2025, but the state should be well on the way to implementing changes by then if it’s to meet the first emissions target in the Act on Climate — a 45% reduction by 2030.
Advocates said they were encouraged by the governor’s words but they said more needs to be done. Kai Salem, policy coordinator at the Green Energy Consumers Alliance, listed building emissions among a number of areas that needed to be addressed.
McKee and Gray both acknowledged that the Act on Climate won’t be enough by itself and they reiterated support for a regional initiative that would cut pollution from cars and trucks, which account for 36 percent of the state’s overall emissions.
McKee said he expressed his backing for the Transportation and Climate Initiative in a call with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont on Wednesday. The two states signed on last year to be founding members of the initiative along with Rhode Island and the District of Columbia, but the effort has stalled after failing to move forward in state legislatures.
“Without a strong commitment to reduce those emissions, the state will have difficulty reaching the reduction mandates that are required by the Act on Climate,” McKee said.