Opinion: R.I. needs to go beyond Act On Climate

The following commentary was written by Mac Dressman, an advocate for clean, sustainable transportation policy with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. See our commentary guidelines for more information.


On this past Earth Day, President Joe Biden called for cutting United States greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2030. Finally, our country stands ready to take bold action on climate change. In this new landscape, Rhode Island should seize the opportunity to become a leader on climate action.

Here in the Northeast, the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a regional cap-and-invest program designed to reduce emissions, is an essential step to take on climate change to build a cleaner, healthier future. 

TCI will not only help reduce air pollution, traffic congestion and improve public health, it will also raise revenue for investments in cleaner, safer transportation across the Ocean State. The state legislature should draft and approve legislation to formally join the initiative along with Connecticut, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. 

TCI builds on the recently passed Act On Climate bill, which establishes emission reduction targets for Rhode Island. While these targets are a good start to meet our climate-saving goals over the next decade, Rhode Island must join TCI to put into effect a direct, achievable roadmap to reduce harmful emissions and create a more sustainable transportation future.   

Critics’ concerns about higher gas prices are exaggerated, and offer no solutions to resolving the toxic air pollution and deadly transportation system that afflicts Rhode Island. While TCI will raise gas prices slightly across the Northeast, a few cents per gallon is a small price to pay for cleaner and safer transportation in the long term. 

Rhode Island has a significantly higher asthma rate than the national average, and fossil fuel-powered cars are a major contributor. To address this health crisis, lawmakers should join neighboring states in adopting TCI to make our towns and cities cleaner and safer. 

Transportation is the largest contributor to climate-harming emissions in the nation. Furthermore, pollution from our cars and trucks sickens thousands of Americans every year. Exhaust from diesel and gasoline-powered cars and trucks contains toxic chemicals, like carbon monoxide and arsenic, and has been linked to asthma, heart and lung disease and cancer. 

Vehicle pollution kills an estimated 58,000 Americans each year, according to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. More than 2 million Americans also visit the hospital every year due to vehicle-related injuries.

TCI will help address these problems by putting a price on vehicle pollution in Rhode Island and the Northeast, and raising revenue for investments in electric vehicle charging stations, cleaner public transit and safer streets for pedestrians and bicyclists.

These long-term improvements will, in turn, provide us with alternatives to pollution-spewing cars — and will be better for our lungs and the climate. When presented with a variety of transportation options, many residents will be able to replace gas- or diesel-powered car trips with walking, biking, public transit or electric vehicle trips. These changes will make our air cleaner and our streets safer.

TCI is a key opportunity for Rhode Island and the Northeast to improve air quality and invest in cleaner, safer transportation options for our children. Legislators should adopt the Transportation and Climate Initiative to protect the health and quality of life of local residents.

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