Lucille DiNaro -Business Manager
Rhode Island, known for its 400 miles of coastline, is projected to witness sea level rise up to nine feet by the year 2100. Talk about ‘Ocean State.’ Governor Gina Raimondo’s response? Allocate an additional $1.5 million to the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). Underwhelmed? Disappointed? Me too. While I’m always happy to hear that our government is investing in state parks, a more efficient maintenance staff at Misquamicut Beach isn’t going to protect us from the consequences of climate change. As the Governor of Rhode Island, a state extremely vulnerable to sea level rise, flooding and erosion, Raimondo can do better.
The $1.5 million that Raimondo’s parks initiative calls for will be used to support the personnel costs of eight new employees at the DEM; six maintenance staff and two business development officers. This comes with the hope that more maintenance staff will ensure that basic needs of patrons are met, such as clean facilities and bathrooms. This initiative is accompanied by a proposed 33 percent fee increase at beaches and campgrounds statewide. The assumption here is that well maintained parks will draw more patrons, and the more time people spend outside the better apt the state is to produce environmentally conscious citizens. If you’re looking for impactful legislation, this is not it.
With little to no organization or consensus on climate change at the federal level, it is up to the states to be proactive about waste reduction, clean business practices and incentivizing choice. Sustainable business practices don’t just happen overnight. Unless it is a personal choice or it is cost efficient, no business owner is going to completely overhaul their day to day operations over a climate prediction. No school system is going to hire additional custodial staff to ensure proper waste management and recycling. And the list goes on. My frustration with Raimondo’s park’s initiative lies in her lack of urgency and foresight. For someone who has stated that she wants to “…make sure that our kids have the same opportunities that we did,” this $1.5 million check to the DEM doesn’t cut it.
It’s no secret that coastal resiliency, flood management, and waste management are critically important to the future health of our state. Members of the General Assembly have proposed excellent legislation this session that addresses climate change head on. Our legislators are working diligently to ensure schools comply with recycling and composting laws, retailers cut down on plastics, and greenhouse gas emission goals are met; and that barely scratches the surface. When these bills reach Raimondo’s desk, I hope they earn her signature.
Climate change is always a tough budget item to negotiate. With limited resources, prioritizing climate change can be hard to rationalize. However, in a state with a traveller economy, environmental resilience is of the utmost importance. In her next four years as Governor, I implore Governor Raimondo to support our legislators and to support Rhode Island.