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RACINE — Mount Pleasant resident Bernadette Borcher tries to do something special on Earth Day. This year she’ll reach out to her state representatives and try to gather more support for policy.

“I was in college when we had the first Earth Day,” Borcher said. “(The environment) always was an interest, I try to do something every year on Earth Day.”

Today is the 49th annual Earth Day commemoration, during which people celebrate the planet and its natural resources. But some are looking to local government to forward initiatives focused on clean energy and renewable resources.

Earth Day was founded by Gaylord Nelson, a past Wisconsin governor and U.S. Senator.

Borcher said it is time to start organizing on environmental issues and climate change.

On Thursday, Borcher, along with more than 50 other area residents, attended a talk hosted by the local Sierra Club chapter by State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, at the Racine Campus of Gateway Technical College. Neubauer’s talk focused on environmental issues and some of the provisions included in Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed biennial budget.

Before serving in the state Assembly and before serving in then-state Rep. Cory Mason’s office, Neubauer was the director of the nonprofit Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network, which later merged with the Sunrise Movement, focusing on environmental issues.

In 2017, Neubauer helped organize and transport young adults to Washington, D.C., for the “People’s Climate March.”

Neubauer said she remembers being frustrated that elected officials did not give climate change the attention she thought it deserved.

“We actually need a popular uprising of people who care about and are working on this issue,” Neubauer said. “It’s still not a priority to work on this at the state level.”

There are several initiatives in the proposed 2019-21 biennial budget that Neubauer said would help move the state in a more energy friendly direction.

Evers is proposing, among other things, that Wisconsin reach a statutory goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050; create a $4 million renewable and clean energy research grant program; and a greater investment in public transportation statewide.

Divided government

With Republicans in charge of both the state Assembly and Senate and a Democrat in the governor’s mansion, Neubauer said the budget is the probably the most likely way some of the environmental provisions can get state funding.

“The budget is not only the place where we allocate resources for the two-year cycle, it’s also the place where often the most substantive policy is passed and in particular, because we have divided government, it’s likely one of the only places where we’ll see real bipartisan cooperation over the next two years,” Neubauer said. “There’s much less incentive after the budget passes for Republicans to pass any of these priorities.”

Neubauer encouraged the attendees to continue to reach out to her office and reach out to the offices of other state officials, particularly Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

“He is the most important person in the Assembly, he has a lot of control over this process,” Neubauer said. “So if you’re in his district, you are in the most important district in the entire state.”

But calling and emailing state officials is just one part of the process, Neubauer said. She added that there needs to be more conversation among fellow citizens and encouraged people to call in to talk radio to express how they feel on climate change.

“It does feel like there’s a real moment for us right now to gather that energy and to direct it toward a policy platform that actually addresses this crisis with the urgency that we need,” Neubauer said. “I think we can do this.”

“It does feel like there’s a real moment for us right now to gather that energy and to direct it toward a policy platform that actually addresses this crisis with the urgency that we need. I think we can do this.” State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine

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Reporter

Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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