Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order on Friday establishing a new Office of Environmental Justice.
Evers first proposed the office last year in his 2021-23 biennial budget after its creation was recommended by the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, but Republicans removed the position from the budget. The new executive order bypasses Republican approval.
The governor made his announcement during an Earth Day press conference at the Indian Community School in Franklin.
“Too many Wisconsinites have felt the effects of climate change firsthand,” Evers said. “Rural communities have had roads or bridges washed out, farmers have lost crops or livestock due to extreme weather, small business owners who’ve seen their businesses destroyed by floods or the disparate health impacts we see due to polluted air and water.”
A diverse group of agricultural, business, community and Tribal leaders collaborated to develop the vision for the Office of Environmental Justice. The office will focus primarily on addressing environmental equity, working alongside existing statewide sustainability agencies to implement environmental policies that benefit citizens across the state.
The office will place special emphasis on securing environmental justice for underserved communities, including communities of color, Tribal Nations, rural areas and low-income communities. These communities disproportionately bear climate change costs yet often lack the means to prevent, prepare for or recover from extreme climate events, according to a 2021 report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Wisconsin Conservation Voters’ Engagement and Development Manager Angelito Tenorio praised Evers’ announcement, calling it a “historic and much needed” tool for climate equity in Wisconsin.
“Black, Indigenous and other communities of color have historically been left out of the decision-making process and excluded from the environmental movement,” Tenorio said in a press release. “The Office of Environmental Justice is a vital step toward addressing the generations of harm done and to dismantling systems that threaten the wellbeing of these communities.”
A director of environmental justice will run the office and oversee its environmental justice operations. The director will be supported by a chief resilience officer, who will be responsible for implementing climate resilience strategies through collaboration with other state agencies.
The office’s creation comes just days after Evers announced Wisconsin’s first-ever Clean Energy Plan, which aims to make Wisconsin carbon-free by 2050.