337 Westminster Street
Providence, RI 02903
Phone: (401) 222-2353
Fax: (401) 222-3199
Open to the public
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Department of Environmental Management as we know it today did not come to be until 1977. In order to track the development of this Department, one must look back to the 19th century and the creation of several small commissions that later came together to form the foundation of the predecessors to the DEM.
During the second half of the 19th century, three commissions were created in the Rhode Island government that later came together to form the predecessor of the DEM. The Commission of Shellfisheries, established in 1842, the Commission of Inland Fisheries, established in 1870, and the Commissioners of the Birds, established in 1899, came together in 1935 to be a part of the Department of Agriculture and Conservation. Together, these three commissions formed the division of Fish and Game within the Department of Agriculture and Conservation, along with the divisions of Animal Industry and Milk Control, Entomology and Plant Industry, and Parks and Parkways. Also folded into this new department was the State Department of Agriculture, which had begun as the State Board of Agriculture in 1885 and later became a Department in 1927. The Department of Agriculture and Conservation remained until 1965, when it became the Department of Natural Resources, as part of the Executive Department of government. The Department of Natural Resources’ original divisions were the divisions of Parks and Recreation, Conservation, Agriculture, Harbors and Rivers, Planning and Development, and Enforcement. The Department also included an advisory council to make recommendations regarding environmental policy in the state.
The Department of Natural Resources remained until 1977, when the Department of Environmental Management was created to incorporate all the responsibilities relating to the environment in one department. The DEM overtook the responsibilities of the Department of Natural Resources, as well as some new, expanded functions. The Department included an advisory council on Environmental Affairs and an Environmental Standards Board. The Department of Environmental Management has remained in effect until today, albeit with several changes, additions, subtractions, and reorganizations.
The mission of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is to protect and care for the state’s environment, including land, air, and sea. It aims to maintain a clean, healthy environment both to protect the health of the citizens of Rhode Island and to preserve the health and beauty of the state’s many natural resources and environments. These both augment the quality of living in Rhode Island and attract countless tourists every year. In order to protect the environment, the DEM monitors the disposal of solid and hazardous waste, distributes boating and hunting licenses, maintains the health of the state’s coastlines, manages the state’s parks and recreation facilities, and enforces the state’s laws relating to environmental protection and management. The concise mission of the DEM is “to preserving the quality of Rhode Island's environment, maintaining the health and safety of its residents, and protecting the natural systems upon which life depends. Together with many partners, we offer assistance to individuals, business and municipalities, conduct research, find solutions, and enforce laws created to protect the environment.”
There is sometimes confusion over the difference in jurisdiction of the DEM and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). The CRMC was created in 1971 and is responsible “for the preservation, protection, development and where possible the restoration of the coastal areas of the state via the issuance of permits for work with the coastal zone of the state” Therefore, while the DEM is responsible for the environmental protection of the natural habitats of Rhode Island, the CRMC is specifically charged with monitoring and permitting coastal development and other possible detrimental activities involving the coastal areas from 200 feet inland to three miles offshore. The director of the DEM is a member of the CRMC, ex-officio, and the CRMC cooperates with the DEM in its endeavors.