- Associated Press - Friday, September 15, 2017

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Gov. Gina Raimondo has ordered the development of a statewide plan to better deal with the effects of climate change.

The Democratic governor said Friday that Rhode Island’s 400 miles of coastline makes the “Ocean State” uniquely vulnerable to climate change and its consequences, such as the rise in sea levels and severe weather. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are the latest reminders that a state action plan amid the global problem is urgently needed, she said.

“The reality is, we can do something,” the governor said. “The challenge is, to take that spirit of urgency to this challenge of climate change. And that’s what today is all about, to think proactively about what steps we can take to build our resiliency so we’re in a better position when the next storm comes.”

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Raimondo signed an executive order, naming Shaun O’Rourke as Rhode Island’s first “chief resiliency officer.”

O’Rourke is currently director of stormwater and resiliency at the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, a quasi-government agency. Under Raimondo’s directive, he takes on added duties, working with local leaders, businesses, nonprofits and others to develop a plan by July 1 to make the state more resilient amid climate change.

The state’s congressional delegation also attended the signing at the Statehouse.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said that with the Trump administration “walking away” from climate change issues, state and local governments, businesses and citizens have to step up. The Republican president has called climate change a hoax and announced he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accords.

“We used to remember when a 100-year storm was a 100-year storm. Now it’s a two-year storm,” Reed said. “We know it’s coming and we have to wisely prepare for it. And that’s why the governor’s efforts today are so critical.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the Senate’s loudest and most persistent voice on the dangers of climate change, listed places in Rhode Island that would dramatically change if sea levels rise as predicted and action isn’t taken. The western part of Newport, for example, would become an island and Providence would likely need a wall to protect it from the seas, Whitehouse said.

A series of round-table discussions are planned to guide the state’s strategy.

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