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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Milwaukee Is One Vote Away From Creating A Climate Task Force

Arch Electric
Solar panel installation is one component of a climate and economic equity initiative being proposed in Milwaukee.

What Milwaukee needs is a task force. That’s what advocates say who want the city and county to jointly come up with climate change solutions. Solutions that also create jobs for people who need them.

Last week, the Milwaukee Common Council unanimously voted to create a climate task force. Tuesday Milwaukee County supervisors mulled over the possibility of joining in the effort during a meeting of the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee.

The resolutionlays out some specific goals: tamping down greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by the year 2030, and to net zero by 2050. Equally important are the community-boosting green jobs that will address the challenge.

Committee members heard from the community and people who helped come up with the idea.

Larry Hoffman told the committee he was part of a year’s worth of deliberation that led to the resolution, which includes puzzling out what jobs will be needed and how to cultivate a well-equipped workforce.

“At [Milwaukee Area Technical College] what they told us was, 'We want to do solar engineering. We want to have comprehensive building engineering,' " Hoffman says. "They want to have comprehensive programs that people can sign up for and not just become solar installers but have a comprehensive set of skills. So, we need to have new laws. We need to have strong incentives. We need to have strong enforcement.”

READ: Want To Help Reduce Climate Change? Eat Less Red Meat & Shop Locally For Your Food

Rafael Smith, with Citizen Action of Wisconsin, says while it’s critical to fight climate change, it’s just as important to end decades of economic and racial inequality. He says his great-grandfather came to Milwaukee in 1941 and got a job with the manufacturing company A.O. Smith. He worked there for 35 years and received a pension. But when Smith’s dad came of age, he says those jobs were gone.

"I really feel that this is the best opportunity we have in the city to bring that type of industry back to the city — good-paying, living wage jobs where people can have dignity and raise families,” Smith says.

While Committee Vice-Chair Sheldon Wasserman says he supports righting past wrongs, he’s hung up on the possibility that wind turbines could be installed in Lake Michigan.

"I just don't want any part of this report to be hijacked into ... creating huge windmills on Lake Michigan." – Sheldon Wasserman

“It’s just a big concern of mine because I just don’t want any part of this report to be hijacked into ... creating huge windmills on Lake Michigan,” Wasserman says.

George Martin thinks every option should be explored and says no time should be wasted doing it. Martin will be representing the NAACP on the task force.

“As a task force, I want to be open to looking at all kinds of things. We've got to look at public transportation — I haven’t heard that mentioned ... that's why I'm looking forward to this task force, to open up that envelope and see what we can really do. I would hope that it would bring about a lot of change because we don’t have time,” Martin says.

Dana Kelley was last to speak. Her unflinching message seemed to swallow up the air in the room.

“I represent the common person of Milwaukee. I’ve been in all facets, on all levels, and on most streets. I’ve seen a lot of the disparity in the community of color. This campaign represents equality,” Kelley continues, “Thank you for allowing us to not only dream but have vision now because now we are open to show you that we are not only great but we can be greater.”

Committee members clambered to add their names as cosponsors of the resolution.

It moves next week to the full county board.

If the task force gets the green light it will have six months to formulate a roadmap proponents hope drive the city and county toward a sustainable future — environmentally and socially.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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