Gov. Tony Evers told a conservation group Wednesday he will “unleash” state Department of Natural Resources scientists he said were largely shackled under former Gov. Scott Walker.
Evers, a Democrat, asked for the group’s help in persuading largely skeptical GOP lawmakers to embrace his environmental agenda, which includes a call to move Wisconsin’s utilities away from carbon-emitting energy sources over the next three decades.
The remarks from Evers came at the Wisconsin Conservation Voters’ Conservation Lobby Day event.
Over the last eight years, testifying to lawmakers became “a really risky thing to do” for DNR officials, Evers told the group.
“We have scientists there for a reason, and that is to inform legislators about how science impacts their policy decisions,” Evers said. “So we’re going to unleash the folks that work at the Department of Natural Resources.”
It was one of the biggest applause lines for Evers from a supportive crowd at the event. Wisconsin Conservation Voters spokesman Ryan Billingham said the event — at which members discussed their agenda and visited lawmakers’ offices to urge their support — drew a turnout of nearly 500.
In his remarks, Evers laid out the environmental agenda in his plan for the next state budget. That includes:
- Clean drinking water proposals such as providing $70 million to combat water pollution and replace lead pipes, new funding to address contaminated private wells and a new drinking-water study in three southwestern Wisconsin counties where nearly half of wells recently tested were found to be contaminated.
- Creating a Bureau of Natural Resources Science with a director who reports to the DNR secretary and five scientists who research areas related to water quality and contamination.
- Requiring the state’s utilities be carbon-free by 2050 in an attempt to address climate change. Investor-owned utilities including We Energies, Alliant Energy and Madison Gas & Electric have already pledged to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.
- Creating a new office of sustainability and clean energy.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ office, responding to Evers, noted Vos has created a task force on clean drinking water.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, asked about Evers’ proposals, signaled skepticism.
“All of these proposals come with a price tag,” Fitzgerald said. “Before the Senate moves forward, we need to review these plans and make sure we’re protecting taxpayers.”
Other provisions of Evers’ budget would allow state agencies, including the DNR, to use condemnation to acquire land for state trails and preserve a state grant program for freight carriers headquartered in Wisconsin to buy and install idling-reduction units for long-haul truck tractors.