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Environmental Advocates Push For Increased Investment In State’s Electric Car Infrastructure

Climate Groups, Local Electrical Workers Union Say Supporting Electric Vehicles Would Reduce Air Pollution While Spurring Job Growth

A car is charging using an EVgo electric car charging station
A car is charging using an EVgo electric car charging station at Union Station in Washington, Thursday, April 22, 2021. Susan Walsh/AP Photo

A Wisconsin lawmaker and state climate groups are pushing for stronger clean car standards and new investment in electric vehicle infrastructure at the state and federal level.

State Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, joined advocacy groups Wisconsin Environment, Wisconsin Health Professionals for Climate Action and a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) in calling for stricter emissions standards for both passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks.

The groups also called for new investment at the state and federal level into vehicle charging stations and other infrastructure needed to support interest in electric vehicles.

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During a press conference on Zoom, Sinicki said Wisconsin has “taken steps backwards” in reducing emissions by implementing registration fees for electric and hybrid vehicles in previous budgets.

“We realize that that was put in place to offset gas taxes and people who are purchasing and investing in these vehicles are saving money on gas. However, people still see it as an extra fee, almost a punishment for making this investment,” Sinicki told reporters.

Sinicki said Republican lawmakers are again stifling efforts to reduce transportation pollution in this year’s budget process by cutting funding for public transportation in Milwaukee and Madison. She said these public transit systems have been working to invest in electric vehicles thanks to federal funding, but the reduction in state funding could halt those efforts.

During a hearing earlier this month, Republicans on the state Legislature’s budget committee said they were cutting state funding for the transit programs because they’re receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief aid.

The advocacy groups called on Wisconsin’s federal lawmakers to support the Biden administration’s efforts to revive federal clean car standards that they say were weakened under the Trump administration. In April, the U.S. Department of Transportation moved to allow states to once again set stricter vehicle emission standards.

Megan Severson, director of Wisconsin Environment, said the federal clean car standards are the best available option to reduce air pollution and fight climate change. But she said Wisconsin and other states also need to be taking their own action.

“We cannot ignore the massive impact that transportation has on our emissions. So I think with clean electric cars and buses, as well as safe streets for walking and biking and more transit options, we can really take a big bite out of Wisconsin’s contribution to climate change,” Severson said during the call.

That includes supporting elective vehicle infrastructure like public charging stations outside of urban centers. Severson, who is grew up on a farm in rural Trempealeau County, said this issue hits home for her.

“My parents actually were just debating whether to buy a hybrid or electric vehicle. And for right now, they decided to go with a hybrid because they had … range anxiety, it’s about an hour drive to La Crosse for them,” Severson said. “I think access to charging and reducing those fees for electric vehicles and hybrids, those things will help.”

She said developing technology for electric buses could especially help rural school districts as they continue to face funding challenges.

Ken Blaeske, organizer from IBEW Local #494 in Milwaukee, said allocating funding for electric vehicle infrastructure would create jobs at a time when the state and nation’s economies are trying to recover.

“These new jobs and new technologies, they’re essential to the security of Wisconsin manufacturing and the people who rely on those jobs. And it’s clear that we have a real opportunity to lead the way on clean vehicle infrastructure in a way that creates jobs,” Blaeske said during the call.

He said Biden’s American Jobs Plan could support the installation of around 10,000 vehicle charging stations in the state and at a much faster rate than adoption through the private sector.

“Our manufacturers are ready to go, they’re ready to build these vehicles now. Our electricians are trained and ready to build this infrastructure now. We just need to get a lot of our legislators involved,” Blaeske said.

Blaeske said the infrastructure investments would create jobs in his sector from installing and maintaining charging stations to vehicle manufacturing and battery research.