Governor Tony Evers is launching a taskforce to brainstorm ways to cut climate pollution, despite inevitable pushback from the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.
The Democratic governor has vowed Wisconsin will meet the goals of the international Paris climate agreement, even as Donald Trump aims to leave the pact and has discounted climate science, rescinded pollution efforts and promoted fossil fuels.
The executive order Governor Evers signed on October 17 establishing the task force calls the climate crisis “a grave threat to the health, safety and economic wellbeing of people and communities throughout the state of Wisconsin.”
Governor Evers is one of two dozen governors in the Climate Alliance, whose members have pledged to reduce their states’ heat-trapping pollution at least 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. Wisconsin is also trying to use only carbon-free electricity by 2050, even though it currently gets about half its power from coal. Eliminating Wisconsin’s climate footprint would require transformative changes to its electrical, transportation, industrial and agricultural sectors.
Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes will lead the task force, and said that to achieve its full potential, Wisconsin needs a federal government “that is less ridiculous than the federal government we have now.”
“But there are still opportunities for states. And that’s why you see so many governors who joined the US Climate Alliance,” Barnes said.
The task force’s recommendations are due in less than a year, but there is no timeline outlined for implementing the suggestions. Barnes acknowledged that state Republicans will argue any climate efforts would raise costs, but he said Wisconsin voters want action.
“I want us to get back to a place where we look at our manufacturing roots here in Wisconsin. Where we’re building wind turbines, we’re building solar panels. That should honestly get Republicans excited as well – I don’t see why they’re so reluctant to ignore the largest sector of opportunity in the economy,” Barnes said.
The state’s ambitions demonstrate a divide in American government that is halting progress on the climate crisis. While Democrats are moving forward with climate proposals, they face opposition from Republicans. Even if climate-minded cities and states achieve their goals, they will fall short of what the US has pledged to the world.
They do not have the same level of authority the federal government has to restrict high-polluting cars and trucks, limit plane pollution and encourage interstate power lines that could carry clean electricity. And the Trump administration has fought back against some of the steps taken, including California’s laws to require automakers to produce more efficient vehicles that use less gasoline.
The Wisconsin task force will look at ways to limit pollution and adapt to rising temperatures and more extreme weather.
Paul Graham, another task force member and president of the Central Waters Brewing Company, said he is “hopeful but realistic” that the group will come up with feasible solutions that could move forward, given the split government.
State Republicans have fought climate action across the board. Some have sought harsher penalties for protesters around energy infrastructure, like oil and gas pipelines. Others advanced legislation to prohibit local bans on plastic bags.
Amber Meyer Smith, a taskforce member and government relations director of the advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, said the state has been “far behind the curve”.
“We know that the public wants to see action – there are so many consequences of climate change that we are dealing with right now,” Smith said.
Xcel Energy, one of the state’s greenest power companies, praised the creation of the group. More than half of the utility’s electricity sources for Wisconsin, 56%, are carbon-free.
“We think this makes good sense for us, good business sense, good economic sense, and it’s the right thing to do,” said Mark Stoering, the company’s president in Wisconsin and Michigan.