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Many of us have recently developed a renewed appreciation for the outdoors as we have found ways to keep our bodies active and minds calm during these unprecedented times. Despite all the uncertainty that we are facing, spring is still on our doorsteps, bringing with it the hope of greener trees and warmer weather. Nature continues to provide us with beauty, nourishment, and opportunities to learn and explore. With the 50th anniversary of Earth Day approaching, I felt it appropriate to reflect on the holiday’s founder, our environmental achievements over the last year, and places where we have opportunities to do more to protect the environment.

If you have visited me in Madison, you might have noticed a portrait of Gaylord Nelson in my office. Nelson is the founder of Earth Day, former governor of Wisconsin, former State and United States Senator, and lifelong leader on environmental issues. His portrait acts as a regular reminder of the need to advocate for policies that protect Wisconsin’s natural resources and increase appreciation for the outdoors.

Believing people would want better for the earth if they knew more about it, Nelson wished to create an entire day devoted to learning about the environment. This idea came to fruition on April 22, 1970, when Earth Day was observed for the first time. Nelson continued pursuing his passion for conservation even after holding office as a public servant, and he went on to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor for his lifetime of environmental achievements. His legacy inspires me to continue his fight to preserve the environment, ensuring the enjoyment of Wisconsin’s pristine beauty for future generations.

The Year of Clean Drinking Water

With over 15,000 lakes and more than 12,600 rivers and streams throughout the state, Wisconsin’s waters are an integral part of our culture. Governor Evers declared 2019 the Year of Clean Drinking Water, thus renewing Wisconsin’s commitment to science, the environment, and public health. This declaration sparked a year-long bipartisan effort to improve water quality in which the voices of people across the state played a crucial role.

The Water Quality Task Force was formed with the goal of bringing lawmakers from both parties, experts, and concerned Wisconsinites together to find ways to protect the state’s valuable water supply. The task force held public hearings throughout the state, gathering information from communities across Wisconsin. After listening to a diverse range of stakeholders and working collaboratively, the task force introduced 13 bipartisan clean water bills, several of which I proudly co-authored.

Greener Wisconsin, Safer Roads

As someone who commutes throughout Douglas, Washburn and Burnett Counties as well as to and from Madison, I understand the importance of making improvements to our crumbling infrastructure so travel can be both safer and more efficient. However, it is also important that the burden of repair not fall only on Wisconsin residents when utilized by people nationwide, particularly those who have made investments in environmentally friendly vehicles and wish to see a cleaner, greener Wisconsin.

Last year, Wisconsin residents who went to register or re-register their hybrid and electric vehicles were shocked and disheartened after learning they would need to pay a $75 dollar surcharge. This fee is in addition to an already established $100 fee which unfairly penalizes Wisconsinites for being environmentally conscious and choosing vehicles that minimize gas emissions. Wisconsin residents should not be punished for making environmentally responsible decisions, and they shouldn’t have to choose between sustainability and better roads.

This Earth Day, I hope that we are all able to take a moment to appreciate the outdoors. Every day, I am hopeful that we will be as resolute as Gaylord Nelson was about protecting our natural home. It is crucial for the success and safety of the great state of Wisconsin that we continue to push environmental protection forward.