PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As Gov. Dan McKee prepares to unveil his budget on Thursday, one climate expert calls on the governor to include funding to help Rhode Island meet it’s climate change goals.
Brown University professor Timmons Roberts, who studies climate change, said the Rhode Island 2022 Climate Update in December showed the state is falling short of its emissions goal outlined in the 2021 Act On Climate law.
The report stated Rhode Island is on track to reduce emissions 41% by 2030, below the law’s 45% benchmark, and Roberts said the modeling to arrive at the current estimate wasn’t clear.
“That’s just a number pulled out of a hat,” he said.
Lawmakers created the Science and Technical Advisory Board (STAB) in 2014 and the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4) in 2021 to provide oversight and hold the state accountable to meeting its climate targets, but Roberts said both groups lack the funding to follow through.
“I think the most dangerous statement that can be made right now is, ‘we are on track,'” Roberts said. “There needs to be real funding for the EC4, for the STAB, and for the agencies to do the work.”
Roberts, a member of STAB, said the board has never received funding despite being mandated to do things such as preparing annual reports “evaluating to what extent the state’s policies and programs aimed at mitigating and adapting to climate change are supported by the best available science and technical information.”
“We don’t have the capacity to review it properly,” Roberts said.
Roberts laid a lot of the blame at the feet of Gov. McKee and his predecessors.
“They’ve never prioritized climate change,” he said.
He told Target 12 he wants to see the governor include a budget item on Thursday that specifically targets dollars for STAB and EC4.
McKee spokesperson Matt Sheaff said in a statement he would not reveal specifics of the governor’s budget, but he added that McKee tried to include funding for EC4 in last year’s budget pitch and it was removed by the general assembly.
Sheaff also said the governor will propose a similar funding approach in the budget he submits on Thursday.
If McKee declines to fund the groups, Roberts said the general assembly should step up, but said legislative leaders seem noncommittal.
“I can’t determine at this particular time what we’re going to do and how much money we can fund anyone,” said Senate President Dominick Ruggerio when asked on Tuesday.
Larry Berman, spokesperon for House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, said in a statement on Wednesday that Shekarchi was unaware of the problem.
Berman added, “Obviously if it is in the budget, or if a representative proposes a bill for funding, then a public hearing will be held by the House Finance Committee, which considers all budget items and legislation with a financial impact.”