By Eliza Kruszynski

Madison City Council Districts 9, 16, and 18 hold their primary election on Tuesday, February 16. Anthony Nino Amato (D9), Veronica Figuerora Velez (D18), and Rebecca Kemble (D18) responded to 350 Madison’s request to discuss their views on climate change in Madison.

Candidates Nikki Conklin (D9), Douglas Hyant (D9), Paul Skimore (D9), Jael Currie (D16), Greg Dixon (D16), Tyson Vitale (D16), Matt Tramel (D16), and Charles Myadze (D18) did not respond.

1. If elected, how will you help Madison adapt to the climate change impacts we are already experiencing in this city?

AMATO (D9): First we must understand the problem! Madison is not on track in meeting its climate change goals.

Over the past decade, Madison invested $95 million in making local government operations carbon neutral by 2030. However, the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked Madison 64th out of 100 cities, behind Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis, and St. Paul in its annual “clean energy scorecard.” In other words, we have failed in our goals.

ACEEE cited our elected officials with a lack “building standards and a lack of community-wide initiatives and transportation policies.” ACEEE went on to say, “even though the city adopted a sustainability plan over ten years ago Madison will not meet either of the 2030 or 2050 sustainability goals.” This is inexcusable! What gets measured gets done.

Now more than ever our city elected officials and department heads must establish measurable and quantifiable sustainability goals with “key performance indicators.”

Madison’s dedicated employees must then be aligned to work collectively in achieving these goals. Simply put, “what gets measured gets done.” Department heads need to regularly monitor and report the progress of these performance indicators to elected officials. This collaborative process will keep the focus on benchmarks and enable adjustments to meet long-term sustainability targets.

Sustainable policy & development: is a renewable and sustainable energy strategy for progressive economic development growth, which meet the human, economic and smart-growth needs of our communities and nation while protecting and preserving the environment and mitigating the human-threat of Climate Change.

KEMBLE (D18): We must re-envision our local energy, transportation, and food systems within carbon constraints, while increasing the resilience of our infrastructure. I supported strengthening the City’s stormwater ordinance last summer, to require that new projects and redevelopments are able to handle more frequent and severe storms. I support County efforts for sediment removal (“suck the muck”) to lessen flooding threats. I am heartened that the Evers administration is reviewing state building codes to address climate change.

VELEZ (D18): Climate change is real, and it’s impacting our city. I will support and promote policies that ensure our city has the resources and infrastructure to respond to local climate change impacts. We are experiencing a change in weather patterns impacting our ecosystems. I’ll ensure we have the policies and initiatives to continue the work mitigating climate change impacts. For example, our area is vulnerable to flooding. In 2018 our city experienced a record rainfall causing flooding across the city impacting many people’s lives. Unfortunately, this is a phenomenon that we may experience more often. So, as a city, we need to have the infrastructure to respond to this type of emergencies. And we need to look at what we can do to prevent flooding, for example, working with stakeholders to manage lake levels.

Clean air and water are vital to me. As the mother of 2 teenage girls, I want them to live in a clean environment. We need to protect our lakes and sources of water. This means ensuring the city has the resources to do so. Many families like to fish in our lakes, and some of them eat their catch. But many times, they don’t know that the fish may be contaminated with mercury or other contaminants.

2. What initiatives would you lead and support to ensure Madison’s built environment rapidly becomes more sustainable?

AMATO (D9): Now more than ever our city elected officials and department heads must establish measurable and quantifiable sustainability goals with “key performance indicators.”

Madison’s dedicated employees must then be aligned to work collectively in achieving these goals. Simply put, “what gets measured gets done.” Department heads need to regularly monitor and report the progress of these performance indicators to elected officials. This collaborative process will keep the focus on benchmarks and enable adjustments to meet long-term sustainability targets.

KEMBLE (D18): We need to make our on and off road bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure safer for all ages and abilities. Access to safe transportation alternatives must be more equitable across our City. I elevate sustainability and equity concerns as an Alder and as a member of the City’s Transportation Policy and Planning Board, Madison Food Policy Council, and Economic Development and Finance Committees.

I will continue to lead efforts to hold polluters accountable and ensure the remediation of contaminated land and water. The soil and groundwater contamination at the former Oscar Mayer and Hartmeyer sites, the former Burke Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the Dane County Regional Airport are serious threats to the health of Northsiders. As District 18 Alder, I have worked with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, County Supervisors, Midwest Environmental Justice Organization, and the Safe Skies Clean Water coalition to demand that a full site investigation of PFAS contamination at the airport be completed before the Wisconsin National Air Guard commences any soil disturbance for the construction projects they have planned.

VELEZ (D18): I will strive to aggressively advance the city’s sustainability plan and ensure that it operates on 100% renewable energy. Continue working toward the goals of improving air and groundwater/drinking water quality. Ensure that all future buildings have electric vehicle charging stations. Revisit building codes to ensure all facilities are adequately insulated for families to provide heat over the winter at an affordable cost. Continue to move the rapid transit system forward.

3. True climate justice includes all members of society. How would you engage disproportionately impacted minorities and those with lesser means while addressing climate change?

AMATO (D9): By changing today’s narrative with the following mission:

“The Sustainability Narrative: is about social and economic justice and assuring all American citizens, have equal opportunities to educate their children, keep them healthy and advance their families economically, while reducing poverty, food insecurities, and eliminating all racial disparities.” – Nino Amato (co-author: Today’s Hidden Racism: A Polite Apartheid).

We must reform the public policy debate & conduct grassroots education that integrates a new sustainability model which includes an environmental justice initiative that focuses on Green Jobs & Messaging: We all win with diversity & inclusion in the development of a green economy & renewable energy future.

KEY IS EDUCATION: It’s time to educate the media, opinion makers and community leaders, that children living in poverty are disproportionately at risk from and affected by environmental pollution from the fossil fuel industries. It is a fact that poor children reside in toxic environments suffer from a myriad of health disparities, such as asthma, cancer, lead poisoning and non-point pollution.

KEMBLE (D18): City government is our collective resource, funded mostly by our property taxes. It exists to take care of our collective needs and build on our collective aspirations. Equity representing and serving our entire community is a key part of sustainability. For example, I have advocated for the City to study what it would take to make Metro a fare-free service, requesting an independent analysis, and I fought hard against the F-35s coming to Truax which will have serious disparate impacts on children and people of color.

As an Alder, I represent everyone in my district. I prioritize working with those who don’t already have access to City government, such as people who aren’t in neighborhood associations or involved with nonprofits. I build relationships with them and help them connect with the agencies and services they need.

VELEZ (D18): The primary victims of climate change and environmental harm are often impoverished and marginalized communities with limited or no opportunity to participate in decision-making and public debate on environmental issues meaningfully. To accomplish concrete climate action, we have to address the disconnect between the communities directly affected by climate change and the representatives who often vote the wrong way, and advocacy groups who often don’t represent marginalized populations. We can start by raising community awareness linguistically and culturally. This includes connecting the dots. Talking about the intersectionality of health and environment and amplifying doctors’ and nurses’ voices seeing the devastating impacts of climate change on their patients’ health every day, particularly doctors of color. Advocating for legal funds for marginalized groups to have access to legal representation. Working with local officials to increase energy efficiency and expedite the transition to clean energy.

4. Madison has identified goals to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas that this city emits into our atmosphere. However, citizens can get almost no data on how well these goals are being accomplished. How would you get the city to provide quantitatively measurable results?

AMATO (D9): Please see my answers to questions #1 and #2. In addition to “What Gets Measured Gets Done,” we need to train a highly knowledgeable generation of environmental activists, who are committed to running for local city councils, village town boards and county boards. “All Policies are Local” and holding local officials accountable, through primary and general elections, are the only way we= are going to get the necessary leadership on the City Council to hold the Mayor accountable to “Walk-the Talk” on mitigating climate change.

KEMBLE (D18): Making data on the City’s greenhouse gas emissions public is an excellent way to ensure that we get on track to reach our goals and that those goals are consistent with the current climate science of how quickly we must act. In 2019, the City committed to achieving 100 percent renewable energy and zero net carbon emissions by 2030, but last year the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy projected that we will not meet those goals or our previously passed sustainability plan. The Sustainable Madison Committee, 350 Madison and other local environmental advocates, and open data advocates are all important allies in moving this ahead.

VELEZ (D18): Transparency and accountability are important to me. This type of initiative should have a data portal accessible and user friendly to everyone who would like to see how the city is progressing on this type of goals. The city should implement best practices to disseminate this information to its residents, for example, utilizing social media to share news and regular updates. Also, provide an outlet for residents’ input.

5. Climate change, racial disparities, income inequality, policing, and loss of city funding are all critical issues in Madison and beyond. How will you balance these critical issues?

AMATO (D9): Simply put: “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein.

The current City of Madison leadership, act as if “it’s business as usual,” which will only make things worse. Why? Because the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed what we have known for some time about racial disparities, income inequality and healthcare disparities and the pandemic accelerated these issues of governmental dysfunctionalism & hyper partisan politics; the income inequality gap and the growing racial disparities, which have been ignored much too long in our city, state and nation. But with a new administration in Washington and a slim majority in Congress, now is the time for our democratic leaders to act, in collaboration with local elected officials and environmental groups. As we saw following the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the start of the “Great Depression” it took the progressive leadership of President FDR, to create new programs and initiatives that over time addressed each of these issues. And it’s time for Democrats and Joe Biden to do the same within the next four years.

KEMBLE (D18): Advocating for open and democratic government is a top priority. It affects everything we do and how we do it. Community centered policing is very important because of how our current model exacerbates the racial disparities in our community, leading to trauma and loss of life. Housing justice is also at the top of the list because people’s health is tightly tied to housing security, and racial disparities in housing are also terrible in Madison. Other interrelated priorities include land use, transportation, and health.

We need to be bold and creative in addressing and funding these priorities. There is funding for what we have the political will to support. I have been advocating for an independent review of our tax assessment practices, to ensure commercial properties are paying their fair share. I am also a strong advocate of reducing the millions of dollars that the City spends on outside consultants, in favor of developing more in-house expertise and capacity. While we often address one issue at a time, we need to think on a system level to further democracy, sustainability, and equity.

VELEZ (D18): Cultivating transparency and visibility between peers and citizens and fostering collaboration is imperative. I will collectively address these issues, leveraging relationships and bringing together industry leaders, business leaders, health department officials, state and local government leaders, and local community leaders to help communities navigate these issues and the impact to workers, businesses, consumers, and our economy. Ensuring public confidence is key to a responsible solution in responding to these issues and make the best use of our resources.

6. How will you work with other alders and members of the public who do not prioritize climate and climate justice issues?

AMATO (D9): Through the upcoming budget process and organizing environmental and racial justice groups to work in collaboration, in the development of 2022 operation and capital budgets which truly reflects the priorities of addressing racial disparities, mitigating climate change and making sure our neighborhoods are safe places to live and play with our children.

KEMBLE (D18): I do my research, elevate the voices of the most impacted, and always seek opportunities to collaborate with community organizations and my colleagues on the Council. No matter how important or righteous your proposal is, it won’t have any impact if you don’t get at least 10 other Alder to support it.

Fortunately, the vast majority of Common Council members realizes that prioritizing climate and climate justice issues means reducing the racial disparities that stress and weaken our community. It means reducing risks and managing long-term expenses, even if it requires more of an up-front investment. It often means benefitting local workers and businesses, since Wisconsin does not produce coal or natural gas, but does have growing energy efficiency and clean energy workforces.

VELEZ (D18):  Climate change is a racial justice issue that we must prioritize. To build a just and equitable society, we need to educate people and stabilize human activities and behavior.  Partnering with constituents who have been affected by climate change is essential. I will connect with climate change advocates across the city to amplify the voices of those who have been most impacted. I will support conversations and activities to invite alders and community members to participate and engage in conversation and action. I will foster collaboration and information sharing and promote a welcoming and respectful environment.