Southeastern Wisconsin has a smog problem, and it’s getting worse. A few weeks ago, the Trump administration handed Governor Walker a political gift, exempting Racine Country from smog regulations. Last year, the EPA said Racine’s smog levels were too high. But this spring, seemingly without any new data, the EPA suddenly changed their tune. Why would they grant Racine this exemption? To save Foxconn — a multinational corporation worth tens of billions of dollars — money.
Last week, I attended a presentation about the history of Earth Day. I’ve long known that Earth Day was a Wisconsin idea, from our own late Senator Gaylord Nelson. But what I didn’t know is that the Senator’s objective wasn’t to save the environment for the environment’s sake, but instead to provide everyone, “a decent environment in its broadest and deepest sense.” He highlighted public housing “not worthy of the name” and recognized the poorest people in a community suffer most from deregulation. In Wisconsin, we have known about the link between the health of people and our environment for decades, but when it comes to writing policy, too often we fail to make the connection.
Reports from the Environmental Protection Agency show that Racine County’s ozone levels have been over the 70 parts per billion limit for years. In real terms, this means people in Racine County are getting sick and staying sick. Inhaling smog causes trouble breathing and long-term lung damage, increasing the chance of lung cancer and pulmonary disease. It is particularly harmful for children, seniors, and people with asthma.
Instead of recognizing this problem and requiring corporations to invest in solutions, such as pollution control equipment, our government is lowering environmental standards. Walker is giving Foxconn a free pass to pump pollutants into Racine’s air.
If we are going to invest billions in public funds toward Foxconn, we must ensure they are protecting the health of our citizens. I am committed to fighting for all of us and our environment in Madison, and I ask you to stay informed and hold all of your elected officials, including me, accountable.
There are some things we cannot afford to compromise on. Gaylord Nelson was asked, “Will we do what is necessary to protect our environment?” His answer still resonates today. “Are we able?” he said, “Yes! Are we willing? That’s the unanswered question.”