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Wisconsin Democrats unveil legislative package aimed at climate change

Forward on Climate package would create a job training program in alternative energies and train farmers in conservation practices

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A sign that says "Honk for our Earth" is proper up against a stage.
Signs made by Madison East High School students are set out during a rally Tuesday, April 22, 2022, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Wisconsin Democrats are proposing a package of bills aimed at addressing climate change, but the plans don’t have buy-in from Republicans who run the state Legislature.

The 20 bills focus on infrastructure and jobs, with programs also aimed at bringing in farmers and supporting income communities that research shows are disproportionately affected by extreme weather and environment-caused health programs, including low-income people and people of color.

That range of proposals, deemed the Forward on Climate plan, is similar to a package that Democrats put forth in 2021. It would develop a “climate civilian corps” to train workers in alternative energy industries, add new stipulations on development — including requiring all road construction to include bike and pedestrian infrastructure — and fund more county conservation workers and two additional agricultural scientists at the Universities of Wisconsin.

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“To be honest, the effects of our changing climate do strike me with fear,” said Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, at a press conference announcing the package. “We have a crisis on our hands, and we are ill-prepared to address it. But we also have an opportunity to make life better for each other and the people who come after us by taking on this issue.”

The legislation would also fund grants for school weatherization, to offset alternate energy use for low-income people and dedicate $1 million toward promoting biodigesters — an alternate waste management system that produces fertilizer.

Another bill would develop a climate change curriculum for Wisconsin public schools.

Carly Eaton, the Wisconsin policy director at the BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership of labor unions and environmental groups, said the package rejects “the false choice that good paying jobs and economic opportunity are at odds with protecting our environment.”

“(By) investing in our communities, creating good jobs and positioning our state and our nation to lead in the production of clean technologies, we can not only drive down the emissions causing climate change, but create a stronger, more just economy that works for all,” she said.

The package faces steep odds in the Legislature, where bills have no chance of passing without support from Republicans who hold big majorities in the Assembly and the Senate. But Neubauer said she was optimistic about the prospects of some proposals, especially those focused on supporting farmers and tourism.

“There, of course, is much more that we will need to do,” she said. “But our hope is to have some common sense solutions that we can get bipartisan support for and move forward now.”

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