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WI Mayor Offers Glimpse into Cities Phasing in Clean-Energy Projects

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This summer's stretches of smoky air, brought on by Canadian wildfires, have prompted more concern in the Midwest about the arrival of climate-change threats and how cities can respond. (Adobe Stock)
This summer’s stretches of smoky air, brought on by Canadian wildfires, have prompted more concern in the Midwest about the arrival of climate-change threats and how cities can respond. (Adobe Stock)

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 Mike Moen, Producer

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Tuesday, September 19, 2023   

New polling suggests most Americans support nationwide efforts to boost renewable energy capacity under the threat of climate change, and a local government leader from Wisconsin said municipalities are doing what they can, even with some challenges in their way.

The survey from the Pew Research Center found two-thirds of U.S. adults said America should prioritize developing sources such as wind and solar over fossil fuels.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said at the local level, elected officials are becoming increasingly aware climate threats are no longer just a “future scenario” to deal with.

“We have to prepare for the impacts that we know are here and are coming and we have to reduce our emissions so that they don’t get worse in the future,” Rhodes-Conway urged. “And we have to do both of those things at the same time.”

The mayor offered those comments in a panel discussion led by the Center for American Progress. She acknowledged federal policies, such as the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act, are helping cities fund climate-friendly projects. But she added most local governments, especially in smaller towns, still lack key staffing to help carry out the work.

Still, Rhodes-Conway pointed out federal policies are sending a lot of direct funding support to cities, which helps if there are potential legislative constraints in various states. She noted the infrastructure law is giving Madison more flexibility to gain steam on certain projects.

“[It’s helping] both our John Nolen Drive bridges to be safer, more pedestrian- and bike-friendly with better stormwater management,” Rhodes-Conway explained. “We also just built a new pedestrian and bike bridge over a critical intersection.”

As for other hurdles to clear, the mayor argued there is still room for improvement in getting the word out to local residents and businesses about tax incentives to make their own clean energy investments. Lingering supply-chain issues are another factor municipalities face in trying to get more of these projects off the ground.