After months of inaction, Island County may finally make some progress on addressing the climate crisis.
Island County commissioners took a first step earlier this month in deciding to direct department heads to prepare proposals for a climate emergency declaration and a climate action plan.
During their work session, the commissioners agreed to use the emergency declaration provided by United Student Leaders, a youth-led climate and social justice coalition from across Whidbey Island, as a source to draft the county’s own declaration and to outline the county’s most pressing concerns related to the environment.
Commissioners also concurred that a greenhouse gas emissions study completed in 2021 for the county should also be referenced as a source for drafting an action plan. The study contains recommendations about convening a climate action committee, implementing electric vehicle charging infrastructure and hiring a sustainability manager, among other things.
Commissioner Jill Johnson was critical of the study, pointing to its support of one power company for the way it generates energy but its failure to acknowledge that the same power company has created dams that negatively impact the salmon population.
She also raised concerns about the recommendations concerning electric vehicles and their infrastructure.
“I don’t understand enough about the consequences of what these conversations are, pro and con,” she said. “I only hear the pro.”
Commissioner Melanie Bacon disagreed.
“I don’t think we need to hear both sides when it’s an issue of science,” she said.
Commissioner Janet St. Clair said she was not supportive of 100% vehicle electrification, citing a need for backup gas-fueled vehicles. She did support installing charging stations and hiring a sustainability manager.
She and Bacon both agreed they were more than ready to begin a conversation.
Johnson questioned why these topics did not get included in an earlier work plan if they were considered a priority by the other two commissioners. Bacon, who was elected in 2020, cited climate change as a primary issue in her campaign.
“If the two members of a board want something, then you say it with clarity and you get it,” Johnson said. “But if you say it wishy-washy, and you change your mind behind the scenes, that’s why conversations don’t come forward.”
Bacon suggested using the greenhouse gas emissions study and the emergency climate declaration from the students as guidance in moving the conversation forward at the county level.
“It really is an indication of how citizens, at least in my district, feel very, very strongly,” she said of the United Student Leaders declaration.
The student-led group delivered the declaration to county officials April 15. So far, the students have aided the city of Langley in passing a similar declaration and approving a climate resolution last spring.
“We appreciate that the commissioners have listened to concerned community members and are moving forward to address this imminent crisis,” Syd Carver, a member of the group, said. “We are, however, disappointed that they seemed to have removed us from the conversation altogether.”
Torrey Green, another member, said the group now has a petition that was delivered this week with signatures from over 450 community members across the county urging the commissioners to work with the students to declare a climate emergency.
“All of these supporters understand the care, detail and research that has gone into our declaration and see the importance of involving United Student Leaders in conversations about climate action,” Green said.
Carver explained that it was the group’s intent to work together with the county on creating a resolution.
“We encourage the Island County Board of Commissioners to work with our students who have put considerable time and effort into the proposal as they create a finalized climate emergency declaration,” Carver said. “We find it essential for us to keep the county accountable in this process to ensure that as the Board focuses on their most urgent concerns, they are also taking into consideration the community’s concerns.”