RI DOT Draft Carbon Reduction Strategy Falls Short of Meeting Legal Requirements
Rhode Island DOT’s draft transportation carbon reduction strategy fails to meet the state’s 2021 Act on Climate law targets. The draft underdelivers on mandatory declining emissions, showing a significant gap in projected transportation emissions reductions for 2030 and 2040 compared to the legally binding climate commitments.
Rhode Island DOT recently released a draft transportation carbon reduction strategy, as required by the 2021 federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This strategy aims to support the state’s own 2021 Act on Climate law, which sets mandatory declining emissions targets culminating in net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, a careful review finds that the draft strategy does not put Rhode Island on a path to fully achieve these legally binding climate commitments.
The Act on Climate requires the state to reduce emissions 45% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2040. Yet the draft strategy projects transportation emissions reductions of just 18% by 2030 and 38% by 2040 compared to 1990 levels. This leaves a 27 percentage point gap to the 2030 target and a 42 point gap to the 2040 target.
According to the draft strategy, transportation emissions in 2021 were around 3.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMT CO2e). Under a “business as usual” scenario continuing current trends and policies, emissions are forecasted to decrease to around 2.5 MMT CO2e in 2050. But to achieve the mandated 80% reduction by 2040, emissions must fall below 0.7 MMT CO2e – less than a third of the currently projected 2040 emissions.
Clearly, vastly more aggressive policies and programs will be needed to come close to meeting the state’s near-term climate mandates. But the draft strategy proposes limited new actions, while relying heavily on existing plans and programs.
For example, the strategy proposes assigning $23.7 million of the state’s federal Carbon Reduction Program funding to projects already in the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). Only about one-third of this funding would go towards mode shift projects to reduce driving, with the majority supporting highway improvements that could actually induce more vehicle travel. Just three projects with emissions analyses were highlighted, reducing CO2 annually by only around 0.01 MMT – a tiny fraction of required cuts.
The strategy rightly notes that Rhode Island cannot meet its climate goals through transportation investments alone – vehicle and fuel technology changes are essential. However, proposed state adoption of California’s Advanced Clean Cars II and Advanced Clean Trucks standards, while helpful, would still leave Rhode Island far off track. Under an aggressive vehicle electrification scenario, transportation emissions are projected to drop only to around 1.1 MMT CO2e in 2040 – 57% above the 2040 target.
Stronger action is clearly needed. To build an equitable clean transportation system, more investment is required in public transit, walking, biking, and affordable shared mobility options. Public fleets, including transit buses, should transition more rapidly to zero emissions vehicles. Building codes should foster walkable, transit-accessible development. Congestion and vehicle mileage fees can manage travel demand while funding clean alternatives.
The draft strategy itself identifies many worthy additional actions like agency fleet electrification, remote work policies, and a statewide parking study. But these are relegated to a concluding “future opportunities” section, without clearly assigning responsibility or timelines. To ensure follow-through, the final strategy should integrate specific commitments for near-term regulatory and planning actions.
Crafting an adequate carbon reduction strategy will not be easy for Rhode Island, given transportation is responsible for 40% of state emissions. But meeting legal climate mandates will require treating the strategy as an action plan rather than just a reporting exercise. This draft shows initiative but lacks the urgency and specificity needed to put Rhode Island on track to its ambitious statutory climate commitments. Finalizing a bold strategy that matches the scale of the climate crisis is an essential next step.