PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha on Thursday blasted the state Department of Transportation’s proposal to cut carbon emissions, calling it “misguided” and “unambitious” and warning that it risks wasting millions of federal dollars.
In a seven-page comment letter, Neronha said the Department of Transportation’s proposal did not specify how it would slash carbon emissions and instead proposed using most of the funds for already-planned highway maintenance projects.
The Department of Transportation submitted a carbon reduction strategy to qualify for an additional $35.7 million in federal funds available as a result of the bipartisan infrastructure law, and the strategy must be certified by the US Department of Transportation.
“As a lifelong Rhode Islander, I know climate change is already impacting our state’s people and natural environment,” Neronha said. “It is concerning, to say the least, when I see that RIDOT’s plan for critical federal dollars for carbon reductions fails to meet the moment — not only falling short of the goals we must meet, but suggesting a proposal at odds with the existing statewide plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Rhode Island needs every state agency to use all its federal carbon reduction funding to back a statewide effort to meet the goals of the Act on Climate, which make the state’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions mandatory and enforceable, he said. Passed in 2021, the law calls for Rhode Island to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 80 percent below those levels by 2040, and to reach “net-zero emissions” by 2050.
“The Act on Climate was a bold step towards addressing climate change,” Neronha said, “and collectively we need to take a hard look at how we are going to meet critical greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.”
The comment letter states that the Department of Transportation’s carbon reduction strategy concentrates mainly on ways to make it easier for cars to travel — “not the transformative changes necessary to remake a carbon-heavy sector to achieve Rhode Island’s reduction mandates.”
“With just six years left before the first interim Act on Climate mandate, the state cannot afford to keep up the status quo and fail to identify needed actions to address the largest sector of emissions,” the letter states. “Positively contributing to achieving Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction mandates at every opportunity is not optional; it is RIDOT’s legal obligation.”
When asked for a response, Department of Transportation spokesman Charles St. Martin said, “As part of the public comment process, RIDOT is assessing all the comments made, and we are making adjustments to the plan to address the concerns of the stakeholders. We’ll be releasing an updated version of the plan in the coming days.”
Last year, the state Senate confirmed Peter Alviti Jr.’s reappointment as Department of Transportation director despite critics who claimed he has failed to shift Rhode Island toward alternative forms of transportation, and to prepare the state to meet its Act on Climate goals.
Neronha, a Democrat, has expressed frustration with Democratic Governor Daniel J. McKee’s administration on matters of climate change, health care, and other issues, and he recently acknowledged he is considering running for governor in 2026.
In a statement Thursday, Neronha said the Department of Transportation proposal does not tie its carbon reduction strategy to a recently released update by the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council, which includes the DOT.
He said the plan failed to include existing carbon reducing plans such as the transit master plan, designed to shift transportation to cleaner alternatives.
He said the plan focuses funding on bicycle infrastructure maintenance rather than construction of new bike and pedestrian routes that could help more people replace car trips.
He said the plan includes inadequate funding to replace Department of Transportation vehicles with electric vehicles and for building elective vehicle infrastructure.
And he said the plan did not provide enough input from stakeholders, potentially missing out on good ideas.
“Rhode Island must continue to innovate in order to remain at the forefront of our nation’s battle against climate change,” the comment letter states, “and that requires actionable plans formed in close coordination with other state initiatives, as well as a rigorous public input process.”