Thurston County Board of Commissioners OKs Climate Emergency Declaration, Mitigation Plan

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Thurston County has adopted a interlocal climate mitigation plan that aims to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next three decades.

The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution adopting the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan in partnership with the cities of Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater. The plan aims to reduce emissions by 45% below 2015 levels by the year 2030 and 85% below 2015 levels by 2050.

The board also amended and approved a resolution that declares a climate emergency. The initial resolution declared a climate crisis, but this was subsequently changed following abundant public comment in favor of the emergency wording.

County Manager Ramiro Chavez read the resolution aloud to underscore the impact of climate change in the region. Among other effects, climate change has reduced the regional snowpack, increased the risk of wildfire, affected wildlife populations, and disproportionately impacted people of color, the resolution read.

"Climate change has become an existential crisis, posing one of the most serious threats to earth's survival and humanity's existence; a crisis that intersects and compounds all other crises facing humanity and our earth," Chavez said.

Additionally, the board also committed the county to implementing the mitigation plan. This step pushes the county into the third phase of this process, which will cost each of the jurisdictions about $47,000 each year, according to the agreement.

In 2018, each jurisdiction worked together to agree on the targets for emissions reductions for the first phase of the process, according to an agenda item summary. The second phase of the plan was finalized with the county's vote, with all parties approving the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan in each of their jurisdictions.

The Thurston Regional Planning Council facilitated the process along the way by bringing the four jurisdictions together via a Steering Committee that includes elected official representatives and support staff.

The final draft of the plan, which was completed in December, outlines a road map by which each jurisdiction may work to meet the primary emission-reducing targets. The plan is a collaborative framework, rather than a decision-making document, meaning each jurisdiction is still empowered to make their own policies.

The implementation of the plan involves continuing to fund staff teams, the Steering Committee and public outreach, according to the agreement. It also funds policy and action research and the development of a system to monitor and evaluate progress.

Chris Hawkins, program manager for education and prevention at Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, spoke in favor of the two resolutions and agreement. He tied the climate emergency to local everyday activities.

"The emissions of greenhouse gases from our activities here in Thurston County, our energy use in our homes and our vehicles is part of what creates the climate change that we are experiencing," Hawkins said. "We caused this, and we can do something about it."

Hawkins said it's necessary for the community to come together to meet this challenge. He said the resolution declaring a climate emergency was drafted to acknowledge the worsening effects of climate change, including the disproportionate impact on minorities.

Commissioner Carolina Mejia said she supports the climate emergency resolution because it adds a perspective she felt the Climate Mitigation Plan lacked.

"One of the reasons I supported the emergency declaration to start off with was because it offers a lens of equity," Mejia said. "It brought an extra layer that I felt that the mitigation plan was missing."

Specifically, the resolution calls on the county to adopt a "lens of climate change and climate equity" for all county staff and departments.

Mejia also moved to amend the resolution to replace the word crisis with emergency. Commissioner Tye Menser voted in favor of the amendment, but commissioner Gary Edwards voted against it.

Edwards said he does not believe other countries are treating climate change as an emergency and said it would be unfair for the United States to hold itself to a higher standard.

"All we're going to do is put something in place to drive up the cost of housing," Edwards said. "That's the bottom line of what we would do to ourselves by implementing that against ourselves when we should be calling for the whole planet to be participating in the same way."

Though Edwards voted against the amendment, he did vote in favor of the final resolution, saying it was a small step in the right direction.

Menser said he felt the climate emergency resolution was one of the most important items he has worked on in his three years on the commission.

"I ditto everyone that has commented about the seriousness of this matter," Menser said. "This is one of the reasons I wanted to run for county commissioner. I'm very proud to be able to do this."

Menser also took the opportunity to read from a letter he said the commissioners received from a former senior at Capital High School. He said the commissioners have received many letters from youth, but he chose to keep this one.

"With this mass response (to COVID-19), I am confident that we will get through this. However the climate crisis is just as big of an issue, if not bigger, and the lack of response is alarming," the letter read. "I hope that when the world overcomes COVID-19 in the near future, we will address the climate crisis with the same urgency as we are addressing COVID-19."

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