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Opposition surrounds proposed Wausau Environmental Justice resolution

The resolution calls for the city to be more equitable in enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies
Published: Aug. 9, 2021 at 9:29 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Controversy is surrounding the proposed Wausau Environmental Justice Resolution that will be brought before the full city council on Tuesday.

The resolution, proposed by Alderperson Tom Kilian, calls for the city to be “committed to the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

The resolution would be the first of its kind in Wisconsin but has seen implementation in other cities nationally, like Evanston, Illinois.

“It defines a commitment from the city to address more meaningful public input processes and public engagement,” Alderperson Kilian said.

The resolution is facing strong opposition from the Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce.
The resolution is facing strong opposition from the Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce.(WSAW)

Kilian said the focus of the resolution would be on Wausau’s south and southwest portion, an area he represents.

The Wausau Chamber of Commerce disagrees with the resolution, saying in an email to its members, “While the Environmental Justice resolution encourages transparency and public involvement in matters of the environment, the resolution goes way beyond to develop foundations whereby the city can establish local EJ zoning ordinances which exceed State of Wisconsin DNR and federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements.”

Alderperson Kilian said he wished he had a chance to talk to Dave Eckmann, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, to clear up what he called “misunderstandings” about the resolution.

“This is a resolution, not an ordinance, so there’s no enforcement capacity,” Alderperson Kilian said.

In addition, Kevin Fabel, Wausau’s environmental engineer, sent a memo to the council members saying there is no evidence of environmental justice being needed.

“I as Environmental Engineer for the City of Wausau for the past 8+ years am aware of zero (0) instances during that time, or any time previous, where minority groups or low-income areas have shouldered any additional burden or have been disproportionately affected by environmental consequences as the result of any environmental violations in any of the issues or areas I have been involved with.”

In 2012, before Fabel’s start in Wausau in 2013, the city applied for a Brownfield Planning Grant. In the proposal, the city referred to “sensitive populations,” specifically the Hmong community, saying they were disproportionally affected by the East Riverfront District.

Alderperson Kilian hopes the resolution will provide more discussions regarding environmental impacts in Wausau.

To view the full resolution, you can follow this link and scroll to page 96. The full council will discuss the resolution Tuesday night at 6:30 pm.

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