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Thurston County Commissioners approve Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan

First they declared a climate emergency, following Tumwater, Lacey and Olympia

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Preluded by 21 county citizens voicing their support, Thurston County Commissioners voted to approve the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan (TCMP) and work with neighboring jurisdictions to cut back local carbon emissions by 85 percent by 2050.

The county government is and final major jurisdiction in Thurston County to approve the plan, which has been in the works for a few years. Now, county and city officials plan to work together to find ways to best implement the multiple facets of the plan.

The TCMP consists of 70 solutions to cut back the primary contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. These solutions were gathered through multiple rounds of public input. The largest contributors in Thurston County — like many places — are electricity and energy consumed by buildings and transportation.

“This is a very substantial and existential issue that we’re facing. It is real, climate change. It is having impacts in our community already. And 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’re experiencing,” said Chris Hawkins, program manager for education and prevention at the county’s public health and social services department.

Like Tumwater, Lacey and Olympia in the two weeks prior, Thurston County voted on three separate issues. The first was to declare a climate emergency, the second was to approve the TCMP and the third was to approve an interlocal agreement between the county and three cities to begin work in implementing the plan.

All three commissioners voted in favor of each item but not without some discussion beforehand. During public comment, numerous members of the public urged the commissioners to amend language in one of the resolutions — to declare a climate emergency rather than a climate crisis. The common sentiment was that calling it an emergency communicates the right amount of urgency.

In a previous meeting, commissioners had decided to move forward with the phrase “crisis.” Commissioner Tye Menser said the county has declared emergencies surrounding COVID-19, opioids, homelessness and is considering another on racial inequity. Rather than label another issue as an emergency, they had opted for calling it a crisis.

However, after listening to the public comments, Menser said he had swayed toward amending the resolution. Commissioner Carolina Mejia said she supported using the phrase emergency, and was the first to make a motion to amend the resolution.

“Just because we have multiple emergencies, does not make this any less of an emergency,” said Mejia.

While Commissioner Gary Edwards voted against changing the phrasing of the resolution, he was outvoted by the other two. Edwards did, however, vote in favor of the resolution itself, after it was amended.

Menser said voting for the plan stood out as one of the most meaningful policy decisions he’s decided as a commissioner.  “I ditto everybody that has commented about the seriousness of this matter. It’s one of the reasons that I wanted to run for county commissioner,” he said.

Edwards said called the move a “baby step,” adding he felt without other nations in the world taking climate change as seriously as they have in Thurston County, cutting global emissions will take a significant amount of time.

The TCMP was created with cooperation from the Thurston Regional Planning Council, officials across multiple city jurisdictions and an array of experts and volunteers. They’ve held numerous events to gather public input on how community members think climate change can be combatted from a local perspective.

Thurston Climate Action Team, a local nonprofit, has been doing greenhouse gas inventory for years. They’ve found that 57 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in Thurston County are generated from energy consumption — heating, cooling and electricity in buildings. Thirty-two percent is generated from transportation — vehicles operating on fossil fuels.

Through multiple public events and methods of gathering public feedback, officials gathered roughly 300 solutions to curb greenhouse gas emissions. That number was whittled down to the 70 most feasible and effective.

As previously reported in The JOLT, recently passed state laws aimed at making the state’s energy grids green will go a long way in helping the plan reach it’s goal. The statewide Clean Energy Transformation Act has already set the ambitious goal of making the state run on 100 percent reusable energy by 2045.

The draft plan also prioritizes changes in transportation, including improvements to public transit, increasing walkability and biking and encouraging electric vehicles.

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