Wausau Entertains Resolution to Better Protect Working Class Areas from Contamination

The City of Wausau is entertaining Environmental Justice approaches that are commonly used by state and federal agencies, and that were started under the Bush administration in the early 1990s.

For decades, the EPA has leveraged Environmental Justice approaches and policies. Environmental Justice “is 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” according to the agency, and it will be achieved when there is the “same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards” and “Equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”

In 1992, the George H.W. Bush administration established the Office of Environmental Equity, now know as the Office of Environmental Justice.

In part, due to reams of data indicating that diverse, working class neighborhoods in Wausau have shouldered a disproportionate burden of environmental consequences, Wausau’s Environmental Justice Resolution was created and — while Environmental Justice policies are common, if not ubiquitous, at other levels of government – it would likely be the first municipal-level Environmental Justice Resolution of its kind in the history of the state of Wisconsin.

The image below illustrates, for example, that out of all new DNR ERP sites in the entire city of Wausau since 2019, 3 out of the 5 new ERP sites, or 60%, are clustered within a couple blocks in the Thomas Street Neighborhood, and that certain surrounding or nearby areas are nearly 50% low-income residents and 50% people of color. There are a remarkable 4 open ERP sites in or adjacent to the largely residential neighborhood. Data suggests that all 5 new DNR ERP sites since 2019 were in low-income areas of Wausau.

The resolution was voted on recently by Wausau’s Public Health & Safety Committee, which resulted in a 2-2 vote in the absence of the city council president, a committee member, who provided information to be shared with the public indicating that she supports the resolution. The resolution will be discussed by Wausau’s Park’s & Recreation Committee on July 12, and go to the full city council for a vote in August.

The full public access video of the committee meeting can be viewed embedded below or accessed directly here. Discussion on the agenda item begins at roughly 6 minutes and 30 seconds in the video.