Chafee creates council on climate change

Gov. Lincoln Chafee created a new government council Friday to coordinate Rhode Island's response to climate change, which he said is causing rising sea levels and more extreme weather for the Ocean State.

The new Executive Climate Change Council will work with other state agencies, local cities and towns and neighboring states to identify ways Rhode Island can prepare for coastal erosion, flooding, rising ocean temperatures and other health and economic impacts. The council also will be tasked with developing strategies to reduce carbon emissions, which are a leading contributor to global warming.

"It is occurring. Human activity is responsible," Chafee said. "We must do what we can."

Sea levels are already rising in Rhode Island and are expected to go up another 5 feet over the next century. Predictions also call for severe weather and flooding that can threaten coastal property, roads and facilities, like wastewater treatment plants, and for changes to the ocean that could endanger the state's fishing industry.

Chafee signed the executive order creating the new council at a wastewater plant in West Warwick that was inundated when floods ravaged the state in 2010. Joining him was Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who said it's important for states like Rhode Island to address climate change, especially since Washington has been slow to take action.

"We are in a very significant battle ... for the future of our planet," Whitehouse said. "There is an opportunity for Rhode Island to lead by example."

The council is expected to issue a preliminary report on its findings and recommendations by May, with annual reports expected thereafter.

The council will be led by Janet Coit, director of the state Department of Environmental Management, and will include leaders from the state's Coastal Resources Management Council and the departments of administration, transportation, health, energy and emergency management along with the state's Commerce Corp.

The group will be short lived if it's abolished by the next governor. Chafee is not seeking re-election and his term expires at the start of 2015. But Chafee said he's confident voters will pick a candidate who sees the need to continue the council's work.