By Janette Rosenbaum, 350 Madison
In November 2018, Wisconsinites will vote for a governor. This post is the fourth in a series on the environmental views of the candidates. This series is for information only. 350 Madison does not officially support any candidate.
What are the most important issues that you would take on if you were elected governor?
“There’s a lot of issues that are going to need to be addressed,” said Ramona Whiteaker, Democratic candidate for governor of Wisconsin. “But the main ones for me, that would be a priority for the first year and a half, is creating a jobs package that raises the minimum wage, and creating programs to train workers for the skilled-labor jobs that are needed in Wisconsin.” This jobs package would also include bringing “environmentally responsible companies” to the state.
Whiteaker named “creating an environmental protection bill” as equal in importance to action on jobs. This bill would be focused on reducing carbon emissions. “It would require utility companies to replace the use of fossil fuels with wind, solar, or hydroelectric power, and [it would] continue to fund research on innovative ways of continuing to reduce our carbon footprint,” Whiteaker explained.
Healthcare was just slightly lower on Whiteaker’s priority list. Her proposed bill would “provide healthcare for everybody, regardless of how much money you made. It would provide everything in one plan.” How would that work? “That would be through a Medicaid buy-in program, and the payments would be based on your income,” Whiteaker told us, adding that this sliding scale would be capped at some reasonable level for the highest income earners.
Finally, Whiteaker said, “We really need to invest in our infrastructure, and making schools and roads a priority.”
How would you rate environmental issues on your priority list?
Whiteaker reiterated that she would focus on jobs and the environment first, aiming to see real progress on these issues within the first eighteen months of her term. “We need good jobs for people, but we also need to protect the environment,” she said, weighing the relative importance of the two issues. “I think those two are my top priorities.”
Within the broad topic of the environment, what do you think are the most important issues?
Whiteaker first answered this question by reflecting on her childhood, when, growing up in Madison, she saw first-hand the community’s fight against Kipp, an aluminum die casting plant. “I remember when we started getting on these companies that were producing all this pollution,” she said.
That fight resulted in EPA regulations on Kipp’s emissions into the air and water, but now those regulations are being rolled back by Governor Walker. “I want to put [the regulations] back into place, and then continue to make companies responsible for being energy-conscious and environmentally conscious and responsible,” said Whiteaker.
Now on the subject of present-day battles, Whiteaker spoke strongly about the need for a swift transition to renewable energy. “The more that we can go to renewable energy,” she said, “the less use we’re going to have for pipelines and fossil fuels. My goal for Wisconsin would be to make Wisconsin a leader in renewable energy, and in every aspect of renewable energy.”
Where would you rate climate change on your priority list?
“Like, way at the top,” Whiteaker said bluntly. “I see climate change in the last few years more and more, with warmer winters and hotter summers. I know that the ice caps and icebergs are melting, and the oceans are rising. And it’s because of us. And it has to stop. And so as governor, that’s what I would be focused on, is doing everything we can in this state, even though the federal government doesn’t believe it’s happening.”
When asked what exactly can we do about climate change, Whiteaker repeated her promise to require utility companies to stop using fossil fuels, and move towards renewable energy. Under her proposed environmental protection bill, any utility company that doesn’t comply will have to pay fines. Renewable energy would not only save our planet, Whiteaker said, it would also save money for consumers.
Whiteaker’s administration would also “impose a tax on companies that refuse to follow the EPA rules, [and] give incentives to businesses that do” follow the rules.
In addition, Whiteaker said that if she were elected, she would join with 14 other governors in signing the We Are Still In pledge, promising to keep commitments made by the US in the Paris Climate Accords, despite President Trump’s decision to abandon the agreement.
“There’s no reason, with all the technology we have, to continue to rely on fossil fuels,” Whiteaker said. “Once we destroy our ecosystem, we can’t sustain our lives.”
Do you know what Line 61 is?
Whiteaker aced 350 Madison’s pop quiz, answering the question before we asked. “I remember a pipeline that came in through Canada,” she said, in the midst of answering the question about her environmental priorities. “I believe it’s the Enbridge pipeline. I did some research on it. They produce over 1 million barrels of oil a day. It comes from Canada. It goes all the way to Illinois. And I believe that they’ve had oil spills before. And I do know that last year I spoke to a Native American who was concerned that there was going to be another line coming through on their reservation. So they were fighting that. And I agree with that. I don’t think we should be taking their land. I believe eminent domain was used in part of that line.”
Asked to clarify why she was opposed to pipelines, Whiteaker said, “I don’t agree with them because they do have the potential to spill, and when they do, it destroys the ecosystem, the land. It hurts the people. And no matter how much you charge those companies to clean it up, the damage is done once it’s spilled.” She also took issue with the use of eminent domain to take land for pipeline construction. “I just don’t think that that’s fair, and I don’t think it’s right. It’s not something that I would support.”
On the subject of what to do about existing pipelines, Whiteaker proposed making Enbridge financially responsible for cleaning up any spills, and doing research to decrease the likelihood that spills will happen. And as for the new pipeline that Enbridge is seeking to build, Whiteaker said, “We have to stop it. Not exactly sure how, but I will find out.”
“This morning,” Whiteaker said, speaking to us on April 26, “the DNR gave the go-ahead to Foxconn to use 2.7 million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan. I’m sad to see that happen.” By the time she takes office, if elected, it will be too late for Whiteaker to stop Foxconn from opening its doors in Wisconsin. But “if we can get our environmental protection bill passed,” she said, “we can force them to actually be environmentally responsible, I’m hoping, because that might be the only thing we can do with them.”
Finally, Whiteaker made her pitch to the electorate: “I’m running for governor to listen to the people and to work for them, to stand with them. If there is something like the march that came to the Capitol that were to happen, if I’m governor, I will be there to address them. I think that in order to know what the needs of the people are, you have to listen to them and you have to work with them. And as governor, I plan on working not just with Democrats, but with Republicans as well, the community leaders, to pass bills and laws that will help people. Everything that I stand for will help every single person in Wisconsin.”
Since our interview, Whiteaker has withdrawn her candidacy for governor of Wisconsin.