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The recently adopted state budget, passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly and signed into law by Governor McKee, is great news for Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island’s rivers.
A $4 million appropriation for OSCAR: A year after establishing a program for urgently-needed climate adaptation projects in Rhode Island, the General Assembly allocated $4 million for the Ocean State Climate Adaptation & Resilience fund. OSCAR will fund coastal marsh and habitat adaptation, river and floodplain restoration, and many other projects that will benefit the Bay watershed for years to come—while also creating jobs in the environmental design, engineering, and construction sectors.
Increases to environmental agency capacity: For the first time in many years, the state’s environmental agencies received a much-needed capacity boost. The Department of Environmental Management received six new positions for permitting and enforcement, in addition to 10 other positions. The 16 new positions represent the first major investment in staff capacity in decades. Additionally, a much-needed policy analyst position was added to the Coastal Resources Management Council.
Progress on CRMC reform: The Assembly added funds for a full-time, independent hearing officer for CRMC, representing an important step in making the agency more transparent and accountable to the public. Save The Bay served on the recent House Study Commission that studied CRMC and, during the Commission’s deliberations, advocated for this and other reforms. While the Commission’s final report includes many key reform priorities that were not enacted, it built a strong foundation for further reform in 2023.
$50 million Green Bond: This ballot measure, which will go before voters in November, includes funding for numerous environmental priorities: $3 million for stormwater management, buffer and floodplain restoration projects; $3 million for open space acquisition; $2 million in matching grants for local land acquisition; and $16 million for the Municipal Resilience Program, which funds ecological resiliency and climate adaptation projects.
These important victories were no accident. Several Newport County legislators stepped up for Narragansett Bay. In the House, Representative Deb Ruggiero (Jamestown, Middletown) chaired the CRMC Study Commission whose findings led to an important first structural reform. Rep. Lauren Carson (Newport) served on the Commission as well and, with House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin Abney (Newport) and Rep. Ruggiero, championed the $4 million OSCAR appropriation.
Senate Environment & Agriculture Chairwoman Dawn Euer energetically advocated for OSCAR funding and CRMC reform, and ensured that two new CRMC appointments would bring much-needed skill and expertise to their positions on the volunteer Council.
Additionally, Governor McKee championed the additional staff for DEM and CRMC, along with the Green Bond; and House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio backed these important budget accomplishments and legislators’ efforts to achieve them.
The 2023 budget is historically significant for Rhode Island’s environment. A budget that supports our environment and local resources like this one is what Rhode Islanders expect and deserve from their elected officials.
Topher Hamblett has been Save The Bay’s Director of Advocacy since 2010 and represented the organization on the House study commissions on CRMC, Shoreline Access, and Land Use.