Assembly Democrats take aim at climate change in large package of bills

By: - November 17, 2023 5:30 am

Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer speaks at a press conference to promote draft legislation on climate change. (Screenshot | WisEye)

Proposals that cover agriculture, schools, electric utilities and workforce training are among 20 pieces of draft legislation to address climate change that Wisconsin Assembly Democrats began circulating Thursday.

“The climate crisis is real, and there is no time to waste in taking action,” said Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine), the Assembly’s Democratic leader, at a Capitol press conference. “We need to build our climate resilience, invest in policies that will help grow our green economy, and support Wisconsinites as we build a better future for all of us.”

In an interview, Neubauer said the package is aimed at garnering bipartisan support to pass at least a few measures in this session of the Legislature. But it also offers a comprehensive vision for the public of how Democratic lawmakers would approach the escalating threat that climate change poses, she said.

Assembly Democrats highlighted a number of the bills.

Rep. Supreme Moore Omokunde (D-Milwaukee) listed measures to help finance home solar systems and add programs targeting low-income consumers to the state’s Focus on Energy conservation program. “We’re empowering Wisconsin counties to make their communities more climate resilient, saving our climate, and creating a more equitable Wisconsin,” he said, “and doing so are things we must do now.”

Assembly Democrats are circulating a package of bills they say would address climate change. (Wisconsin Examiner photo)

Proposals to support developing biodigesters that can turn waste to energy, encourage the planting of crops that can sequester carbon in the atmosphere so it doesn’t contribute to global warming and add county land conservation staff would benefit Wisconsin farmers, according to Rep. Dave Considine (D-Baraboo).

“Farmers want to have the environment be safe and clean,” Considine said. “They want to fish, they want to hunt. They want a clean environment, and we need to help them.”

Rep. Francesca Hong (D-Madison) called transit legislation and green jobs training “smart, equitable policies that approach climate-related issues at their root.”

Among the measures Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) drew attention to was one for “complete streets,” requiring bicycle and pedestrian paths in all new road construction projects. Larson is the lead Senate sponsor on several of the proposals.

He poked fun at some of the ceremonial resolutions that have gone before the Legislature.

“In times of divided government, like we have here in Wisconsin, it’s easy for us to focus on the low hanging fruit,” Larson said. “But, no offense to the state cocktail, state cheese varietals, or even the state microbe — these items have their place to be sure — the people elected us to solve problems that are much bigger and affect far more people far more directly.”

With climate change the future of civilization is at stake, he warned. “If we do not address this problem at a global scale, at a countrywide scale, and here at a statewide scale, there will not be much for humans to measure in the foreseeable future.”

Jennifer Giegerich, government affairs director for Wisconsin Conservation Voters, called the collection of bills “the framework around which we can center a healthy economy, save consumers money, center environmental justice, protect our natural landscapes, generate carbon-free power, and develop the future of transportation.”

No Republicans have yet signed on to any of the measures, which Democrats are now circulating to invite cosponsors, Neubauer said. In an interview she nodded when asked about the routine pattern in which Democratic bills have languished in committee after their formal introduction, never to be given a hearing, much less a vote.

“As the Assembly Democrats we can do two things at all times: to try to pass policy that is going to improve people’s lives in Wisconsin, and to put forward the vision for what we know Wisconsinites need long term, even if we can’t get it passed right now,” Neubauer said. “I know that what is really needed to take on climate change is going to be a longer-term project here in the Assembly.”

Neubauer said she thought Republicans could support and pass some bills yet this session, such as measures encouraging farmland conservation and providing resources to local school districts and local governments to improve energy efficiency and equip them for the changing climate.

“We know that climate change is happening,” Neubauer said. “We are all feeling the effects, and I hope that we are able to get some bipartisan support for helping our communities be prepared for the extreme weather events that are coming.”

Democratic legislators’ climate bills

Democrats are circulating and inviting cosponsors for 20 draft bills intended to respond to global climate change with state initiatives. The proposals cover:

  • Agriculture: grants to encourage farmers to plant vegetation to absorb more carbon dioxide, a primary contributor to global warming; grants to establish regional biodigesters that can convert farm waste and other sources of waste into biogas; funds for more county conservation staff, expanding their work to include advising on climate change and climate change resiliency; added climate science staff for the UW-Extension.
  • Education: grants for public schools to weatherize buildings and update their energy efficiency; model academic standards for teaching about climate change; a climate change college scholarship program.
  • Planning and development: requiring local governments to consider climate change impacts in local planning, with funds to support that work; requiring the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to incorporate clean transit and transportation measures in its long-range planning; requiring the DOT to include bikeways and pedestrian paths in all state-funded highway projects; forestry grants to cool urban neighborhoods, which are subject to higher temperatures than other communities; clearing the way for local communities to set higher building code standards for energy conservation, currently blocked by state law; requiring the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to assess the environmental impact on vulnerable communities of facilities that it regulates and issues permits for; expanding the state’s current Energy Innovation Grant program.
  • Utilities: requiring the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) to consider the impact of carbon when it vets utility projects; requiring utilities to double their funding for Focus on Energy, a state program that supports new energy efficiency and renewable energy projects; requiring Focus on Energy to fund programs tailored to low-income households; establishing a financing program for green home upgrades such as solar panels.
  • Workforce and jobs: a Wisconsin Climate Corps. job training program in climate resiliency work; grants to create or expand training for green jobs.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.