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Energy & Environment

Evers touts new WI Office of Environmental Justice

A handyman installing solar panels on the rooftop.
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A worker installing solar panels on the roof.

Wisconsin has a new Office of Environmental Justice, which is tasked with centering equity and fairness as the state proceeds with a new clean-energy strategy.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports the heaviest impacts of climate change typically fall on underserved communities who are "least able to prepare for and recover from heat waves, poor air quality, flooding and other impacts," a disparity the new office will be tasked with addressing.

Gov. Tony Evers said at a news conference Friday the office will work across state agencies to ensure an equitable response to climate change.

"The cost of doing nothing is far too high," Evers asserted. "We can't ignore the reality facing communities across our state any longer."

A report by the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts found extreme storms and flooding are among the most common cases of extreme weather in Wisconsin. Frequent and extreme flooding can contaminate drinking water and lead to outbreaks of waterborne illnesses.

According to the governor's office, the state's new Clean Energy Plan could create more than 40,000 new jobs in the state by 2030.

Pamela Ritger de la Rosa, Milwaukee program director and staff attorney for Clean Wisconsin, said it is important those jobs are also available to workers from disadvantaged and low-income communities, a goal she said the new Office of Environmental Justice will help achieve.

"Investing in these changes could really help to solve the economic crises that many individuals in our underserved communities are living with every day," Ritger de la Rosa contended. "Because these are jobs that can't be outsourced and that can't be automated."

Evers previously proposed the Office of Environmental Justice in his 2021-2023 state budget, but the proposal was stripped out by Republicans in the Legislature. This time around, the governor bypassed the Legislature by using an executive order to establish the office. According to the governor, the office will be led by a yet-to-be-named director of environmental justice and a chief resilience officer.

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