McKee Highlights 2023 DEM Accomplishments: Progress toward Act on Climate, 8 million visits to state parks and beaches, new environmental justice policy to correct historic inequities 



PROVIDENCE, RI – The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has marked 2023 by making steady progress on the Act on Climate mandates directing the state to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, hosting more than 8 million visits made to state parks and beaches, and adopting an environmental justice (EJ) policy aimed at easing the historic and disproportionate burden of environmental hazards faced by minority and low-wealth communities. This calendar year also has seen DEM advance resilience projects to protect the Port of Galilee from the effects of sea level rise and co-host The Ocean Race at Fort Adams State Park in Newport. The event, held in May, brought global attention and millions of dollars in tourism and hospitality spending to Rhode Island. 


“From combatting climate change to prioritizing environmental justice to improving water quality to promoting outdoor recreation and local seafood and agriculture, DEM has a big portfolio of responsibilities,” said Governor Dan McKee. “I am proud of the progress the agency and its staff are making for Rhode Islanders and, with many complex challenges still to be tackled, am relying on Director Gray and his team to keep going strong in 2024.” 


“Protecting our environment and stewarding our finite natural resources are massive challenges that we can only meet by having strong relationships with the Rhode Island General Assembly, the Congressional Delegation, municipalities, regulated entities that care about doing the right thing, and the many environmental, community, and other organizations that we partner with,” said DEM Director Terry Gray. “I encourage all our constituencies and stakeholders to review the DEM 2024-26 strategic plan for a clear idea of our priorities and initiatives.” 


DEM highlights for 2023 include: 


In May, Governor McKee joined DEM in announcing that Rhode Island became the eighth state to propose the adoption of the Advanced Clean Cars II and Advanced Clean Trucks regulations. Transportation causes around 40% of the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Act on Climate (AOC) mandates that Rhode Island achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. Rhode Island will only meet its AOC mandates by reducing GHG emissions in the transportation sector, which the new regulation will help achieve. In October, DEM released an inventory that is the state’s primary scientific tool for assessing progress toward the AOC. The inventory showed that between 1990 and 2020, GHG emissions decreased by 20%. This was twice the rate of reduction required by the AOC but caveated by the fact the transportation activity for the year that was assessed, 2020, was greatly reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With support from DEM staff, the Rhode Island Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4), chaired by Director Gray, approved a spending plan allocating $3 million across state agencies to support Rhode Island’s implementation of the AOC. The funding allocated in the EC4’s first-ever budget achieved a balance between resilience and reducing carbon emissions and between direct program support, capacity building, and engagement. 


DEM adopted an environmental justice (EJ) policy that incorporates fairness and justice in all DEM programs and initiatives. DEM disseminated a draft policy and spent six months seeking and obtaining community feedback before finalizing the policy. It touches every aspect of DEM’s operations, from recruiting and hiring more people of color in permanent and seasonal positions to directing solutions at the historic and disproportionate burden of environmental hazards faced by minority and low-wealth neighborhoods in Rhode Island. 


DEM continues to invest in modernizing the Port of Galilee, which is one of Rhode Island’s economic and jobs powerhouses. As of the end of 2023, the Department is in the third phase of a multi-year investment with work aimed at protecting against the effects of sea level rise and enhancing safety and security throughout the port. Large-scale projects underway include replacing 1,000 feet of steel bulkhead, removing and replacing heavy-duty docks for large commercial vessels, strengthening and rehabilitating other docks to enhance safety and use, and raising the height of the bulkhead and docks to combat sea level rise and protect against storm surge. 


Millions of Rhode Islanders and visitors enjoy DEM’s state park network every year. These public places are good for public health and central to our environment, way of life, and economy. Year to date in 2023, more than 8 million people visited parks, beaches, campgrounds, bike paths, historic sites, picnic areas, trails, athletic fields, fishing access areas, and boat ramps. Because beach traffic makes everyone salty, DEM completed a project that added a third entrance lane to the parking lot at East Matunuck State Beach, using $700,000 financed by state capital funds and money raised by the 2021 green economy bond


The Ocean Race – a prestigious world sailing competition raced by 60-foot, high-tech boats – chose Newport as its only North American stopover. Fort Adams State Park, managed by DEM, served as race headquarters for the third time. Over two weeks, key partners Sail Newport and 11th Hour Racing brought thousands of schoolchildren to the shoreside Ocean Live Park to learn about sustainability and ocean stewardship. DEM recognized both Sail Newport and 11th Hour Racing for running model, large-scale green events. DEM also recognized the Newport Festivals Foundation for ensuring that the 2023 Newport Folk and Newport Jazz music festivals were green-certified events


DEM produced a 200-page draft report detailing the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, in the RI environment. PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they resist typical biological, chemical, and physical degradation processes and remain in the environment and in the human body longer than other toxic contaminants. A 2022 law enacted by the Rhode Island General Assembly directed DEM to conduct a statewide investigation on potential sources of PFAS by Nov. 1. DEM is currently in the process of incorporating public comments into the draft report.


Developing a talent pipeline for DEM’s future workforce by partnering with Skills for Rhode Island’s Future to develop RIsing Environmental Leaders. Throughout the six-week program, high school students from across Rhode Island explored careers at DEM through job shadowing, guest speakers, and hands-on field trips. The students chose from five career tracks: Marine Fisheries, Fish and Wildlife, Climate Justice, Water Quality, and Environmental Protection. DEM is emphasizing diversity, inclusiveness, and instilling an environmental ethic in this initiative.


The Rhode Island Seafood Marketing Collaborative, a public-private body chaired by DEM, continued to support local fishers and seafood farmers and increase awareness and consumption of locally harvested species through the trademarked RI Seafood brand logo, which signifies that the products that bear the logo are locally landed or grown. In 2023, the RI Seafood brand attended more than 25 events and engaged nearly 75 Rhode Island fishers, aquaculturists, and other seafood venues in its marketing campaign, all of which can be found on the local seafood finder that connects consumers with opportunities to buy fresh local seafood.  


DEM’s Division of Agriculture and Forest Environment continued to work across many fronts to benefit and strengthen Rhode Island’s green economy and to assist local farmers and fishers in growing their businesses. The Local Agricultural and Seafood Act (LASA) Grant program invests in new and beginning farmers, fishers, food producers, and non-profits to help spur the growth of local agriculture, aquaculture, and seafood industries. The FY 2024 LASA grant program funding matched the FY 2023 budget’s increase by allocating nearly $700,000 to further support local producers and nonprofits and support the state food system. During this year’s grant found, DEM’s Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure (RFSI) program made available more than $1,500,000 in funding for projects that directly support middle of the supply chain activities, bolstering Rhode Island’s food security, local food economy, and consumer access to fresh, RI Grown food. 


DEM led the state’s response to the two back-to-back wildfires – at Congdon Mill in West Greenwich and the Queen’s River Preserve in Exeter – in April that resulted in the burning of hundreds of acres of property but no loss of life. Wildfires are expected to become more frequent as client change creates warmer, drier conditions leading to longer and more active fire seasons. DEM is responding by increasing the use of low-severity prescribed burns to reduce the build-up of combustible materials on forest floors and grasslands, thus lessening the risk of high-severity, unplanned destructive wildfires, and by offering specialized wildfire training classes to build staff and volunteer capacity. In August, DEM announced a forest health improvement project that aims to “future-proof” a 45-acre state parcel in Richmond from the effects of climate change by planting species of trees that may be better adapted to endure Rhode Island’s hotter and drier future.


DEM reinforced its commitment to promoting sustainability in Rhode Island and throughout its own programs and operations as it continued to develop a comprehensive strategy and implementation plan for sustainable materials management. DEM supports for the RI Schools Recycling Club’s “Get Food Smart RI” program, which provides technical assistance to K-12 schools to increase food recovery and donation, aligning with DEM’s strategic plan to incorporate the RI Food Strategy to combat food insecurity and reduce food waste. During the 2022 session, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed the Plastic Waste Reduction Act, ensuring a uniform and consistent legal standard statewide on plastic bags, that Governor Dan McKee signed into law. It directed DEM to draft regulations, which the agency did in 2023. 


The 2023 mosquito season was particularly active, with DEM and the Rhode Island Department of Health managing the mosquito trapping, surveillance, and testing program. In 2023, there was one human case of West Nile Virus (WNV), two Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) cases in mammals, eight positive EEE virus mosquito samples, and 14 WNV findings in mosquitoes. Climate change is affecting every aspect of life in Rhode Island including the length of the mosquito season. As spring and fall temperatures continue to warm, mosquitoes can emerge earlier and survive later into the year. A “mosquito day” is one with hot and humid weather that mosquitoes thrive in. There were 15 more mosquito days in 2023 (145 days) than in 1980 (130 days). 


For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit To read the agency’s 2024-26 strategic plan, click here. Follow DEM on Facebook, Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), or Instagram (@rhodeisland.dem) for timely updates. 



The transportation sector remains Rhode Island’s largest source of GHG emissions and is a primary driver of climate change. Once fully implemented, this policy will help RI achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.



Galilee is the largest port in Rhode Island and one of the busiest ports on the Atlantic Coast. Galilee is home to much of the Ocean State's diverse commercial fisheries and interdependent businesses. Together we’re committed that the port remains a thriving working waterfront for the commercial fishermen who berth there and the many commercial crews up and down the Atlantic Coast that do business there.



Fort Adams State Park in Newport offers exceptional panoramic views of Narragansett Bay and during the Ocean Race stopover co-hosted by DEM, tens of thousands of visitors experienced how Rhode Island set a standard for event sustainability as a DEM green-certified event and one of the world’s first climate-positive sporting events.



Locally grown vegetables for sale at the weekly RI Grown Farmers Market at Fishermen's Memorial State Park during the 2023 season.



DEM’s Forest Fire Program conducting a prescribed fire for habitat restoration and to reduce the risk of unplanned wildfires at Pratt Farm in Arcadia Management Area. More planned, prescribed fires mean fewer unplanned, extreme wildfires.



For generations, EJ communities in Rhode Island have endured both a disproportionate burden of pollution and a deficit of outdoor facilities and amenities. Funding from a DEM Outdoor Recreation Grant in 2016 paid for improvements at the spray park at Joslin Recreation Center in the Olneyville section of Providence, including shade sails, landscaping, and play structures.



In 2023, DEM added a third lane to the entrance and strengthened stormwater controls at the popular East Matunuck State Beach in South Kingstown. DEM hopes that the new entryway reduces traffic congestion by getting vehicles off the roadway and into the parking lot faster.