R.I. to hire new chief resilience officer to combat climate change

Updated at 12:00 p.m.

GOV. DANIEL J. MCKEE signed an executive order Monday to reestablish the position of a R.I. chief resilience officer to lead the implementation of the state’s comprehensive climate preparedness strategy. /ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Daniel J. McKee signed an executive order Monday to reestablish the position of a R.I. chief resilience officer to lead implementation of the state’s comprehensive climate-preparedness strategy.

The new person will work at the R.I. Department of Environmental Management and will report directly to DEM Director Terrence Gray. The new chief resilience officer will serve as the primary voice and advocate for Rhode Island’s actions on climate resilience and will work with multiple programs and organizations to protect and restore coastal habitats. 

“While the Ocean State is particularly susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change, the chief resilience officer will work to protect Rhode Island from the effects of global climate change,” McKee said. “We are a leader in taking action and meeting the ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals laid out in the landmark Act on Climate, which I was proud to sign more than two years ago. Resilience, and being prepared for the future, go hand in hand with our efforts to reduce emissions.” 

McKee earlier this month said Rhode Island will join six other states, including Massachusetts, to end the sale of new gas-powered vehicles in the Ocean State by 2035. The move is part of the state’s effort to combat climate change and gain net-zero emissions by 2050.

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Michael Healy, chief public affairs officer of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, said the job of chief resilience officer will be posted Monday. He added the position is a grade 34, which has a salary range of around $80,000 to $90,000 a year.

The position was originally created by then-Gov. Gina M. Raimondo in 2017, when she called for a statewide action plan to better prepare Rhode Island for the impacts of climate change. Her executive order placed Shaun O’Rourke, the director and stormwater and resiliency at the R.I. Infrastructure Bank, into the role. He was responsible for working in collaboration with the R.I. Executive Climate Change Coordination Council to develop the action plan. 

O’Rourke held the position until he left the R.I. Infrastructure Bank in Nov. 2022. He is now director, water and climate finance for Quantified Ventures in Bolton Valley, Vt. 

“We have much to do to protect the state against sudden and unexpected severe weather events and address underlying chronic stresses, such as rising sea levels, drought, aging infrastructure, and competing development priorities,” Gray said. As we work toward meeting the considerable challenges presented by both our coastal and upland vulnerabilities, environmental justice and equity will be an important consideration in our adaptation work.” 

The new chief resilience officer’s duties will include coordinating efforts across state agencies, municipalities, businesses and other organizations and will advise the R.I. Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council, as well as draft and implement policies. They will also lead and plan projects to restore the habitat, will work directly with CRMC and RIIB on the implementation of the Ocean State Climate Adaptation and Resilience Fund, draft state policies on resilience, and track and apply for federal grants to fund these efforts across the state.

(Update: salary range of new chief resilience officer added in 5th paragraph)

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