Governor Evers Visits Franklin Community Indian School, Office of Environmental Justice Announces | WUWM 89.7 FM

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Friday announced the creation of a state office of environmental justice within the administration department.

Evers signed an executive order creating the position during a ceremony at Franklin’s Indian Community School.

The Evers administration says, “The Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) will facilitate collaboration among state agencies to promote environmentally just policies and avoid disparate outcomes in communities across the state. The office will also engage “with farmers and rural communities, communities of color, tribal nations, state and local partners, and low-income populations, among other key stakeholders.”

A state panel that Evers set up in 2019 to examine climate change recommended the creation of an Office of Environmental Justice. Evers included language supporting the office in his latest state budget proposal. But Republicans who control the state legislature have stripped the wording from the budget.

“And although it was unfortunately taken out of the final budget, I’m happy to say we’re doing it anyway,” Evers said Friday, to applause and cheers from students and others in attendance.

Evers later told the media that the OEJ would not be a cabinet position, but that a head of the office would attend Evers cabinet meetings. “Of course, they will be in the room. Of course, they will not only be in the room, but they will spread throughout the state, because climate change and the impact of climate change is an issue at the statewide. Obviously, the more difficult the situation, the more we need to reach out,” Evers said.

Evers says he also hopes OEJ will help bring the state government together, “instead of having one agency or two agencies in the lead, we’re able to use all of our intelligence from our agency and my office.”

Since Evers was at Indian Community School, WUWM asked him to describe an environmental issue that disproportionately impacts Native Americans.

He replied that tribes living along Lake Superior and other waterways have experienced greater flooding problems in recent years. Evers said some tribes have created more wetlands to reduce flooding. “But on top of that, we need to help them make sure their infrastructure is solid, and we can help them maintain it,” Evers said.

The governor’s office adds, “The Office of Environmental Justice will be supported by a Director of Environmental Justice, who will be responsible for overseeing the operations of the Office and the work of environmental justice. He will also be supported by a Resilience Officer, who will be responsible for leading the administration’s efforts to integrate resilience planning into the programs of state agencies and assisting local governments and tribal nation leaders to implement climate resilience programs and projects in their communities to protect people and property hire an Environmental Justice Policy Advisor to work in partnership with the Office of Environmental Justice.

Jason Dropik is a principal at Indian Community School and a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. He says the governor’s announcement is a step in the right direction.

“As a member of a tribe and as someone who grew up in an urban Native American population, we just know that these perspectives are often overlooked,” Dropik told WUWM.

Dropik says he’s glad his students heard Evers’ announcement, saying future generations are often affected by today’s environmental issues.

Evers says he hopes the Office of Environmental Justice is a permanent state position. But several Republicans running against Evers in the November election could eliminate the position as early as next year if Evers loses.

GOP gubernatorial candidates include Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Ramthun and Kevin Nicholson. Pipeline Construction Manager Tim Michels is reportedly considering a bid. Proposals for pipelines carrying gasoline, natural gas, and oil have been controversial in several Indigenous communities.

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