Minor Amendment Creates Major Climate Failure — ecoRI News
Stakeholders say proposed change to Rhode Island’s transportation improvement program ignores mandate to reduce climate emissions
By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff
Transit and climate advocates fear the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) is accelerating a plan to spend $748 million in federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding regardless of state law mandating reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate Legislation Actpassed last year, requires Rhode Island to reach net zero emissions by 2050, with specific benchmarks every 10 years, or face legal challenges. the Climate Change Coordinating Executive Council (EC4), a 12-member council comprised of state agency leaders, is responsible for ensuring the state meets its climate goals.
Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Acting Director Terrence Gray is the chair of EC4. ecoRI News has contacted DEM for comment, but an agency spokesperson replied by email: “I’m sorry, but at this time we are not informed enough about this issue to answer your questions. before the deadline.”
The transportation sector accounts for nearly 40% of greenhouse gases emitted in Rhode Island. It is the fastest growing contributor to climate pollution.
Many stakeholders, including some lawmakers, are disturbed that RIDOT appears to be rushing a decision that favors the car-dominated status quo while underfunding transit and bike and pedestrian projects and ignoring the climate crisis.
Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport, noted that a provision in the Climate Act, which she helped draft, requires state agencies to build climate resilience into their budgets.
Rhode Island General Law 42-6.2-8 reads, in part, “Combating the impacts of climate change shall be considered within the powers, duties and obligations of all departments, agencies, commissions, councils and instruments of the State…Each agency shall have the power to enact rules and regulations. necessary to meet the mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Carson and others ecoRI News spoke to for this story are bothered but not surprised by RIDOT’s callous disregard for climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Grow Smart Rhode Island has noted hundreds of millions in the State Transportation Improvement Program 2022-2031 (STIP) are budgeted for highway extension projects. STIP is Rhode Island’s list of budgeted transportation projects over a 10-year period.
Patricia Raub of RI Transit Riders noted that the first four years of STIP funding are spent on “business as usual” projects. Liza Burkin, lead organizer for the Providence Streets Coalition, said RIDOT continues to operate as an independent entity that is not required to answer to the public or even to the General Assembly.
“It’s a terrible investment. We have to understand the connection between transportation and climate,” Burkin said. “We can’t keep building more highways. We can’t even afford to maintain what we have.
She noted that there are many sidewalk, bike lane and transit projects that need funding and would create jobs. She pointed a white paper released last year by a city council member who showed that in Providence alone there are 26 miles of residential streets without sidewalks.
Grow Smart deputy director John Flaherty said RIDOT’s spending plan also doesn’t include the funding needed to implement the state-approved program. Transit Master Plan or the Statewide Cycling Mobility Plan.
Flaherty, Member of Rhode Island Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), said the committee was told on Feb. 3 that it had to vote on STIP Minor Amendment #2 at its meeting on February 17. If the committee recommends the amendment, it moves on to State Planning Council for final approval. The TAC has rarely, if ever, approved an amendment. The same is true for the National Planning Council.
The TAC will not be accepting public comments at the February 17 meeting on Amendment No. 2 as it has been labeled “minor”, but public comments will be accepted over the mandatory four-year period. Federal certification exam of the State Planning Council. Online public comment completed February 14.
Flaherty noted that the “minor amendment” is a 487-page document that includes 152 proposed project changes and the addition of nearly $750 million in new federal funds.
“As a minor change, opportunities for public engagement are reduced – no public hearing and only 10 days’ notice for the public to register comments via a web portal,” Flaherty said. “There’s nothing minor about it.”