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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Earth Day prompted new legislation regarding sustainability, but highlighted a limited effort between lawmakers to work together on authoring bills for the nonpartisan issue. 

Only one bipartisan bill blossoms this Earth Day, will others grow or wither?

Despite Wisconsin split government’s difficulty forming cohesive bipartisan policy, some legislators used Earth Day as a platform to roll out new sustainability-focused legislation with support from the other side of the aisle. 

Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, worked with her Republican peers to propose a bipartisan bill advocating for free vehicle passes to families of children in 4th grade or below. 

Representatives from Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, office said it was Sargent who took charge of proposing this bill, and sought out support from the three Republican co-author’s, including Cowles.

“Protecting our environment and educating our youth is not a partisan issue; it is common sense legislation that will better our society and protect our natural resources,” Sargent said. “I am dedicated to reaching across the aisle to find innovative ideas that will advance our state’s youth and limit environmental loss.”

The bill authors formed a united front in wishing for Wisconsin’s state parks to be enjoyed by its young residents, and believe environmental education is also a paramount concept to address. 

While it is evident Republicans and Democrats alike share concerns about the environment, not everyone is enacting conservation-based policies on this year’s Earth Day.   

Assembly GOP released an environmental protections package, which included reforms to clean energy corridor grants, renewable energy rebates, solar and wind education and training grants, a commitment to preserving the Wisconsin Knowles-Nelson Stewardship and an electronics recycling initiative. 

If passed, these grants intend to encourage the use of electric vehicles, fund renewable energy services, provide grants for sustainable energy training and education, as well as preserve wildlife habitats as well as outdoor recreation areas.

“On this Earth Day, we join others across the country and around the world in recognizing the importance of protecting our environment,” Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, said in a press conference about the GOP’s package Monday.

From the other side, three Democratic legislators authored two bills Monday, which if passed would ban the use of styrofoam products and regulate plasticware and pesticides. 

Specifically, the legislation would repeal 2015 Wisconsin Act 302, which took power away from local governments to enforce ordinances that restrict or impose fees on “auxiliary containers” like plastic bags in a grocery store. 

“While a Styrofoam cup of coffee may not seem that monumental in the morning, that cup will spend 15 minutes with you, but 500 years or more in a landfill,” co-author of the bill Rep. Melissa Taylor, D-Madison, said in a statement. “Reducing the use of Styrofoam not only improves the health of our environment, but of our communities as well.”

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In his budget proposal, Gov. Tony Evers said the environment would be a place both sides of the legislature could come together. However, the separate bills proposed Monday may suggest a lack of interest in fulfilling this vision.  

But Wisconsin Conservation Voters Communications Director Ryan Billingham said the partisan nature of the bills is more of a process than a political divide, noting the “Earth is nonpartisan.” 

“I think Earth Day is a time when people look to make positive decisions for the environment,” Billingham said. “I dont think it’s necessarily a party versus party thing. Each legislator will come up with bills they think are important and that’s sort of just how it works up at the Capitol.” 

The executive branch shared similar beliefs in a joint statement about our state’s heritage and history of preserving Wisconsin’s water, air and land in a similar fashion envisioned by key figures such as John Muir and Gaylord Nelson. 

"The Earth does not belong to one political party or another,” Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said. “Climate change and the impact it is having on our communities is something we need to address together. The future of our state and our planet depends on it."

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Ben Brod

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