House Bill to Eliminate Coastal Resources Management Council, Replace with Department
Save the Bay’s Jonathan Stone recently wrote:
For years, vacancies have undermined the CRMC’s capacity and effectiveness. Now, the council’s lack of compliance with the separation-of-powers amendment continues to leave its decisions open to legal challenge. The Supreme Court confirmed that CRMC members must be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Only three current members, and indirectly the director of the state Department of Environmental Management, meet this standard. Save the Bay believes that the CRMC is taking a calculated risk in continuing to meet and make important decisions on this basis.
It is critical for the General Assembly to put a sound structure in place and for the governor to revitalize the council by submitting the strongest possible appointees. Now that the advisory opinion requested by the House has resolved the major questions regarding the status of CRMC, we have the opportunity to move ahead with legislation and appointments. It is high time for the Assembly and the governor to bring the council back to full strength with an infusion of well-qualified and public-spirited members.
Thus inspired, it would appear that the General Assembly (the House specifically: PDF) is adjusting to not having so many seats on the Coastal Resources Management Council by…replacing it. Goodbye CMRC, Hello Department of Coastal Resources Management.
46-23-2.3. Department of coastal resources management established — Transfer of functions. – (a) There is hereby established within the executive branch of the state government a department of coastal resources management. The head of the department shall be the director of coastal resources management, who shall be in the unclassified service and who shall be appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the senate, and shall serve at the pleasure of the governor. Provided, this section shall not be construed to abrogate any contract in effect on the effective date of this act. (b) Upon the effective date of this act, the coastal resources management council shall be abolished, and all functions, powers, duties, liabilities and obligations of the council conferred thereon pursuant to the provisions of this chapter shall be transferred to and administered by the department of coastal resources management.
All of those employed by the CRMC will be transitioned into the new department. The only political appointee will be the new Director: the rest of the CRMC will be replaced by and advisory committee made up of experts, not politicians (ahem). I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to read this as the General Assembly telling the Governor that if they can’t stack the CMRC then they’re going to take it away so that he can’t stack it either–even if the State Supreme Court said it’s his to stack! So they’re restructuring it out from under him and defining who will be on the advisory council:
There shall be established a coastal resources advisory committee which committee, appointed by the director of the department of coastal resources management, shall include, but not be limited to, representation from the following groups: one of whom shall be a representative of the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography and the College of Resources Development, one of whom shall be a representative of the Sea Grant National College Program, one of whom shall be a representative of the army corps of engineers, one of whom shall be a representative of the federal environmenta l protection agency’s Narragansett Bay laboratory, one of whom shall be a representative of the department of coastal resources management, one of whom shall be the director of the department of environmental management; one of whom shall be a member of the Rhode Island Marine Trade Association and one of whom shall be a representative of a regional environmental group. The department of coastal resources management shall have the authority to appoint such additional members to said advisory committee as is deemed necessary or advisable by the advisory committee or the department of coastal resources management. It shall be the responsibility of the committee to advise the department of coastal resources management on environmental issues relating to dredging and permitting related thereto…
Objectively, this does look like an improvement over the old way that was vulnerable to patronage and general hackery. However, it is notable that the General Assembly never saw fit to create such a department filled with non-political appointees until they were forced out of the loop. One would almost think they were having a bit of a tantrum.