A local government coalition focused on climate issues aims to ensure residents get their “fair share” of federal resources coming to Wisconsin.
That’s according to Erick Shambarger, Milwaukee’s director of environmental sustainability and co-founding member of the Wisconsin Local Government Climate Coalition. In a recent interview, he said the group helps members share ideas and find opportunities to collaborate.
“Obviously with the federal infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, I mean there’s a lot of opportunities,” he said, referencing the billions of federal dollars Wisconsin is expected to receive. “So the coalition is just a good forum for local governments that are interested in these issues.”
Those opportunities — and challenges — will be examined at a WisPolitics-WisBusiness event Thursday in Milwaukee.
The coalition was founded about two and a half years ago following conversations between Shambarger, Eau Claire Senior Planner Ned Noel and Kathy Kuntz, director of Dane County’s Office of Energy and Climate Change. It has now grown to include 16 members across the state, representing communities with 1.8 million collective residents.
Much of the coalition’s work thus far has focused on utility regulations, Shambarger explained.
“When there’s issues that affect all of us, we weigh in on those things, because the regulations of how the utilities operate really affects a lot of different things,” he said.
While the group doesn’t do any lobbying, it has issued joint comments to the state Public Service Commission on various topics, ranging from increasing funding for the state’s Focus on Energy program to allowing third-party financing for solar projects. Its website lists a number of policy priorities including retiring coal plants and other fossil fuel facilities, investing in the clean energy workforce, boosting support for the electrification of buildings and transportation systems, and more.
Noel explained founding members of the coalition were interested in pooling resources and presenting a unified voice on shared priorities like these.
“Kind of the earlier adopters, the local governments that had pledged carbon neutrality-type goals or carbon reduction, renewable energy goals, and had developed sustainability or climate action plans,” he said, adding they “work together to make sure that the local government voice is more heard at the state level.”
He emphasized that the coalition represents communities from across the state, including Green Bay, Stevens Point, Wauwatosa, Racine, La Crosse, Wausau, Madison, Sun Prairie, Middleton and others.
The coalition has secured funding from the national Energy Foundation to bring on an outside consultant to help facilitate its efforts. Shambarger noted local governments typically have limited staff, technology and other resources, adding the sheer number of potential funding opportunities can be overwhelming.
“Many communities that don’t have staff focused on sustainability, clean energy policy may not even be paying close attention to what the federal opportunity is going to create for Wisconsin,” he said. “We’re just trying to stay ahead of the game here.”