By Janette Rosenbaum, 350 Madison
In November 2018, Wisconsinites will vote for a governor. This post is the third 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?
Tony Evers, Democratic candidate for governor and currently the state superintendent for schools, shared his top three priorities, in no particular order.
“One of them is, of course, education,” he began. Prioritizing education means “funding it appropriately and equitably,” Evers explained. School funding has been “decimated” by Governor Walker, but it’s a “critical issue” for the superintendent.
The second priority Evers named was “to reinvest and reinvigorate the middle class in the state of Wisconsin, and that includes … [making] healthcare more affordable.” Reinvigorating the middle class also means “investing in middle-class jobs, such as infrastructure,” Evers said, noting that currently, “We rank 49 out of 50 [states], as it relates to that.”
“And third of all, it’s issues around natural resources,” concluded Evers, who holds degrees in zoology and chemistry. “The environmental issues are really important to me.”
Within the broad topic of the environment, what do you think are the most important issues?
Evers had plenty of ideas on how to answer this question.
“I was the first candidate to endorse the Paris Climate Change Accords,” he said proudly. “I think that’s important, to recognize that that’s a reality, and science has indicated that it’s real to us.” Throughout our interview, Evers stressed the importance of further research, and relying on scientific knowledge to make good decisions. As governor, he said, he would invest in reinvigorating the University of Wisconsin’s research into renewable energy, and he would “appoint UW regents that believe in climate change and would respond accordingly and fund those programs and deal with the importance of renewable energy.”
On the subject of appointing people, Evers said that Wisconsin should return to having an independent secretary leading the Department of Natural Resources, “to pull them away from the political realm as much as possible and bring science back into the decision-making of the department. … I want to make sure that environmental protections are in place, and we vigorously support the DNR’s ability to regulate that, to protect the environment.”
What, specifically, should we protect? Water is the area most under attack, Evers said. “Texas has oil; we have water. And that is a very important resource for us in the state, whether it is for recreational purposes or other [environmental uses].” Evers called out lead as one threat to water quality in Wisconsin. “We have kids in this state that are drinking water that is contaminated with lead. … We need to put our money where our mouth is on that issue.”
Evers also named air pollution as an environmental issue. Foxconn, once it is in operation, will be the fourth-worst source of air pollution emissions in southeast Wisconsin, with three coal-burning power plants taking the top spots. Evers condemned the DNR’s role in allowing the Foxconn proposal to go forward, saying they “put their blessing on that without, frankly, much thought.”
Since it’s too late to stop Foxconn from moving into Wisconsin, Evers spoke about the need for a “Plan B” for dealing with the company. “I think we should be able to compel Foxconn not only to pay living wages, but to essentially install solar panels” on their huge complex of buildings, Evers said. With the amount of roof space available, “they would create electricity for 33,000 homes in southeast Wisconsin.” Evers thought the company could be required to install the solar panels in exchange for the state providing roads to serve the company’s premises.
What else can we do to address environmental issues in Wisconsin? “We can begin by enforcing present laws,” Evers stated simply. “There’s always a balancing act between the environment and business interests, and I think that balancing act has fallen out of balance.”
If you were elected governor, what would you do to address climate change, and how soon would you do it?
In response to this question, Evers again named the importance of research, especially in the field of renewable energy. “Renewable energy is one of the ways to avoid more damage to the environment,” he said.
When we pressed Evers for suggestions of other ways we could reduce our carbon emissions, he pointed to cars as an important source of greenhouse gases. “We don’t build cars anymore in the state,” he said, “so we have little or no control over that.” But we can do research to inform industry as to how they might produce more climate-friendly cars, and we can “make sure that cars that are bought and sold in Wisconsin meet standards, and try to assist people in their ability to buy cars that reduce emissions.”
Do you know what Line 61 is?
Evers needed help on 350 Madison’s pop quiz, but then he was immediately able to take a position on the issue and suggest some actions he would take.
In regards to Line 61, which was constructed decades ago, Evers said, “I don’t foresee us shutting that down.” But there are still actions we can take to reduce the potential harmful impacts of the tar sands pipeline. We can “make sure it has the appropriate monitoring so there’s not a spill,” Evers suggested. We can “hold the company’s feet to the fire if there’s any damage done to the environment because of that.” We can also “make sure the company has the appropriate insurance policies in place,” “compel [the company owning the pipeline] to be good stewards,” and “make sure things are appropriately cleaned up if an accident does happen.”
As for Line 66, the proposed “twin” to Line 61, Evers deferred to scientists and researchers as to what the wisest course of action might be. “We have lots of smart people that are involved in that.”
“I support climate change research,” Evers told us one more time. “[Climate change] does exist. We need to continue to expand our knowledge around that and do everything we can to make sure we understand the issues and respond accordingly. … That’s serious stuff that we don’t discuss anymore.”
Finally, Evers expressed his interest in hearing from Wisconsinites with diverse viewpoints. “Governor Walker has a history of choosing the people he wants to listen to,” he explained, “and I don’t do that, and I won’t do that in the future.”