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Why Wisconsin has seen so little legislative action on climate change

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All this hour, we've been talking about issues where Americans seem to agree on something, say they want something done, but nothing happens. We're hearing from scholars and journalists who report on these issues and from you. You've told us about your frustrations, about issues where you don't see progress being made despite consensus, and you wonder why. In Wisconsin, we heard about one topic in particular that has many people worried.

ROBERT KRAIG: The climate issue has really advanced as a public issue. I can give you one piece of public polling. UW-Madison, our flagship research university, did a poll last year that showed it was the top concern of Wisconsin voters, and that was not a political poll.

MARTIN: That's Robert Kraig. He's the executive director of Citizen Action Wisconsin. His group is working with state lawmakers to pass a climate package. Its goal is to reduce Wisconsin's greenhouse gas emissions and create green jobs. But he also says passing it will send a message to the public.

KRAIG: And it's frustrating on a huge issue, like the climate change issue, that the public has simply not been given the options that are out there to actually be serious and actually address the magnitude of the climate crisis.

MARTIN: How does he know? Well, according to a recent Marquette University poll, 73% of Wisconsin voters say they're concerned about climate change, but there has been inaction. Kraig says part of it has to do with the politics of the state. It's pretty evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

KRAIG: And so, in a way, Wisconsin has - predictably, has had very divided state government, and divided government with the current level of polarization between the parties is dysfunctional government, in many ways, at the state level.

MARTIN: And Kraig says it's not just Republicans who are pushing back on this legislation. He says that Democrats have also done their part.

KRAIG: They are very concerned that being too bold will be used against Democrats in elections, and somehow this will be damaging. And I have tried to not only reassure them, but encourage them to understand public polling is overwhelming, that most Wisconsinites think climate change is a serious threat and that they want not only serious action, action up to the scale of the challenge and the scale of the threat.

MARTIN: To address that threat, Kraig says a lot needs to change about how politics is done in the state.

KRAIG: We are hoping the next legislative session is a real breakthrough where at least it's a major issue in the legislature and there are hearings and debates. That's hard to do, too. It's harder to get a hearing now. A lot of bills never receive a hearing now, which also is undemocratic. And we need to put pressure on that as well because the legislature is not doing its job if they're not holding hearings on major bills introduced.

MARTIN: And this bill, he says, is crucial, not because, he says he's advocating for one particular position or agenda item but because climate change is a big issue, and it matters to Wisconsinites.

KRAIG: We need to define the issue for the public so they actually are given major options to consider and a way to decide what they would support and to therefore talk to their own legislators and, if necessary, hold them accountable, which is the only way democracy works, is for the public to actually know what legislators are doing and what they'd like them to do and to test them and vote for them or against them based on their performance.

MARTIN: That's Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action Wisconsin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.