A divided Clatsop County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday night to address climate change.
The resolution states the board will develop a climate change partnership among cities, special districts, businesses, nonprofits and the community to improve understanding of the natural resource base, educate the public about local climate change issues and recommend action.
“Our county, unlike most counties in Oregon, we’re kind of at the cusp of climate change,” said Commissioner Pamela Wev, who presented the resolution. “We have ocean acidification issues. We have increased winter storm issues. We have sea level rise. We’ve got to start acting on things like this sooner rather than later.
“Climate change shouldn’t be a political issue. And there’s no reason why taking action on climate change threatens any of our other priorities.”
The vote was a statement by a majority at the final board meeting before two new commissioners take office in January. Wev’s resolution was supported by Kathleen Sullivan and Sarah Nebeker, who lost their reelection campaigns in May.
Sullivan and Nebeker were endorsed by Clatsop County Democrats and Indivisible North Coast Oregon, a progressive group. The incumbents were defeated by Courtney Bangs and John Toyooka, who were endorsed by Clatsop County Republicans and #TimberUnity, a conservative group that has fought climate change legislation in Salem.
While the county commission is nonpartisan, Bangs, a Knappa preschool teacher, and Toyooka, a manager at Lum’s Auto Center, will shift the ideological balance of the board in a more conservative direction.
Bangs and Toyooka made cap and trade and the county’s decision to opt out of a $1 billion lawsuit against the state over timber harvests issues in their campaigns.
Sullivan and Nebeker declined to take positions on cap and trade before the election. Both had voted in 2017 to opt out of the timber suit.
During the board meeting Wednesday, Commissioner Mark Kujala and Commissioner Lianne Thompson abstained from voting on the climate resolution and asked to table the issue until after a work session to discuss the idea with the new commissioners.
“Is there anything that is more important than the content of this proclamation?” Thompson said. “Well, I’d say equal to that is the process by which it was developed and brought forth, because that plays a determining role in how it will be carried out.
“I am a devoted, staunch environmentalist. I want this carried out, and for that reason, I seconded Commissioner Kujala’s motion because we have to include everybody in this — everybody in our community. We have to give everybody fair warning and a chance to be heard. We don’t have that. Because we don’t have that, I trust in the goodness of our incoming commissioners, I trust in the rightness of this cause, I trust that going forward the new board will seek a balanced environment, economy help.
“We’re in the midst of a pandemic, our economy is in tatters and we’re determined to save the planet. But we have to do all three of it or we will accomplish none of it.”
Thompson added, “This is a bad process. When we get a letter to the editor on Nov. 21 that calls on this to happen when there is a three-vote majority of quote ‘progressives,’ and I don’t, as a commissioner, even hear about this until the board packets are already in the mail, that is a sadly deficient process. I have to abstain on the basis of process.”
Kujala pointed to the new strategic plan the board has been working on for the past year.
“I thought we agreed to a more kind of balanced and nuanced discussion of environmental and climate change policy,” he said.
Sullivan, the board’s chairwoman, apologized that the resolution did not make it on a work session agenda.
“I think for me, this is my last meeting, and I regret that we didn’t have a proclamation like this four years ago,” she said. “I regret that we haven’t had a proclamation like this every single year, that we don’t have ... a standard part of our agenda to talk about upcoming issues that concern the entire community.”
Sullivan added that there are many people in the community who want to see a public declaration from the county’s highest governing body acknowledging climate change.
“I appreciate what the two commissioners have said and I understand where they’re coming from,” Nebeker said of Kujala and Thompson. “But I also think that there is a time to take a stand and to show leadership and to not wait for everyone to agree or to achieve a consensus.
“While that would be ideal, I feel for my part, as a commissioner at this time — even though I recognize that there will be a new commissioner — it is my duty to act on proclamations and issues that I see as important now.”