Rep. Supreme Moore Omukunde and Sen. Chris Larson announced a legislative package to address climate change and provide green energy jobs. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)
The same week that Wisconsin was hit with multiple major storms, leaving tens of thousands of people without power in temperatures that neared 100 degrees, two state legislators announced their plans for a package of legislation to transition the state to a greener future.
On Thursday, Rep. Supreme Moore Omokunde (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) announced their climate and jobs package of legislation they plan to introduce in next year’s legislative session. The package will build on Gov. Tony Evers’ clean energy plan to help the state transition to using more renewable energy sources while creating jobs.
“Yesterday was a stark reminder across the state as tornado warnings and severe weather warnings hit following a week of flooding, following Yellowstone — our nation’s first national park — being shut down for the first time in my memory, of course following severe storm after severe storm, thousand-year storm after thousand-year storm,” said Larson. “This is a constant reminder from the planet that we have altered the ecosystem where we need to be doing something about it to address the existential crisis of climate change.”
“At the same time,” he added, “there is an increasing wealth gap and people have been left behind by the way the energy system is set up in our country. So we have to make sure those folks are brought along as we tackle climate change.” The package of bills, he said, represents, “the marriage of those two major dilemmas being solved together.”
The two legislators, joined by Dr. Robert Kraig and Rafael Smith from Citizen Action of Wisconsin, emphasized the urgency of the climate crisis and the importance of helping low-income communities in urban and rural parts of the state transition to more renewable energy sources while allowing them to access the good paying jobs that will be created along the way.
“We’re talking about economic equity as we transition to a greener economy and a greener infrastructure, that we’re able to make sure that those who are currently employed can have a just transition, those who are underemployed can get access and those who are unemployed can also get access to economic opportunities,” Moore Omukunde said.
The package is going to include a transitional green jobs program to help people get skills and training to participate in the “green economy,” they said.
“We intentionally set out to identify those communities most vulnerable to climate change and the effects of a green transition and work hard to ensure those communities stand to benefit from our state’s response through a just transition process,” Larson said. “It means we create a program that pays companies to hire workers who are displaced by the fossil fuel transition in the short term, while we work to find unsubsidized jobs in the green energy economy in the long term. These proposals avoid unfunded mandates and no worker gets left behind.”
The package, the legislators said, will also include programs to improve housing conditions for people affected by climate change and build homes that use renewable energy sources and set specific greenhouse gas emission standards to be met by 2030 and 2050.
The bills within the package would codify emissions targets to make the state compliant with the Paris Climate Accords, aiming to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 60% of 1990 levels by 2030 and 15% of 1990 levels by 2050. These levels are the strongest targets in the upper Midwest, according to the legislators. The emissions targets also come with air monitoring and emissions reduction programs to track air pollution in disadvantaged communities across the state.
Moore Omukunde and Larson said the legislation is still being crafted, but that they wanted to announce their plans before spending the summer traveling across the state to learn how people are being affected by the climate crisis — whether it’s through increased flooding, hotter weather or more severe storms.
The legislators and climate activists at the press conference said that people in Wisconsin are being harmed by the climate crisis no matter which party represents them in the Legislature, so if Republicans won’t take action they’ll go to the districts to start a statewide conversation about what is needed to reduce the state’s emissions, increase its renewable energy use and create jobs along the way.
“It is long overdue for the Legislature to initiate a broad public discussion of reforms at the scale of the climate change and economic opportunity crisis in Wisconsin,” Kraig said. “Wisconsin has it well within its means to address the climate challenge and open economic opportunity to all those who are being left out, if it can develop the political will to act boldly and decisively.”
Larson said the two legislators are open to working with anybody, but two of the bills in the package which were introduced in the last legislative session didn’t even get a hearing from the Republican-held Legislature.
“Unfortunately the Republicans that have gerrymandered themselves into an artificial majority, have decided they would rather give out tax cuts and pursue Foxconn than actually tackle the existential crisis our neighbors demand,” he said. “That doesn’t alleviate us from putting out a proposal and setting the lead. If they will not lead, we will. There’s far more we should be doing than even what’s in this package, but these bills could be a huge step forward. We are of course welcome to work with anyone who is interested in building on this package. We’re here because our kids can’t wait and because the storms are getting more severe and the crisis is only growing.”
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