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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Group urges Clark County to include climate action in growth management plan

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 19, 2023, 6:05am

The chance to put Clark County on a deliberate, sustainable pathway is now.

This outlook is the driving force leading Alliance for Community Engagement, a local environmental advocacy group, to petition county officials to incorporate a climate action plan and a defined greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal to the county’s long-range planning.

In an online petition, the coalition tags air pollution, intensifying weather events and overdevelopment as just a few touch points that must be addressed in Clark County’s Comprehensive Growth Management Plan.

“Consider 2045: What will our landscape and climate be then? We believe planning for a better future in Clark County means including climate and resiliency into this foundational planning guide,” the group writes.

Local habitats are becoming drier, posing risks for widespread wildfires and the loss of seasonal ponds, wetlands and strong streams, as documented by the county in 2021. What results is a domino effect in ecological transformation — ranging from increasing toxic algal blooms to physiological stress on fish and other wildlife.

Clark County’s comprehensive plan serves as a 20-year policymaking roadmap for managing the county’s development, with its current version spanning through 2035. Periodic revisions are required to reflect evolving state laws, land use changes, population growth and housing forecasts, which staff are currently reviewing and must complete by 2025.

Heidi Cody, Alliance for Community Engagement co-director, said the petition, which has gained more than 500 virtual and in-person signatures, encourages county officials to pursue climate planning as soon as possible. The group intends to appear at events within the county and keep the online petition open so the public can weigh in on the conversation — a critical component of the county’s revision process, according to co-director Cathryn Chudy.

State-led approach

Local lobbying isn’t the only source calling for governments to adopt climate action strategies, as it mirrors state legislation proposing the same thing.

House Bill 1181, passed in the House and Senate, would amend Washington’s Growth Management Act to require local governments to incorporate climate action in their comprehensive planning. It has yet to be signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, the last step in its legislative journey.

Examples of climate action include addressing air and water pollution in historically impacted communities, expanding housing capacity within urban growth areas, preserving green spaces and upgrading roads to accommodate multimodal lanes, according to the bill. Overall, local governments would conduct an inventory of and work to increase green infrastructure in its public sector.

Under the act, counties with a population of at least 200,000 people and cities with 6,000 people would create road maps to cut human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled per capita. Clark County, with a population rising past 516,000, would have to comply.

Though there are statewide carbon reduction goals — cutting 95 percent of emissions by 2050 — the bill does not impose a similar plan for counties and cities.

Oliver Orjiako, Clark County community planning director, said staff are reviewing how the bill would influence revisions to the county’s comprehensive plan update. Should the amendments take effect, the Departments of Commerce and Ecology would provide guidance for establishing climate action benchmarks and targets.

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“We are looking forward to the final language of the bill as signed by the governor,” Orjiako said.

Not entirely new

Some entities within Clark County have already taken similar climate action initiatives before policymakers introduced amendments to Washington’s Growth Management Act.

The city of Vancouver adopted its Climate Action Framework in 2022, which outlines a number of green proposals to reach carbon neutrality by both the municipal and public sectors by 2040. The Port of Vancouver hopes to achieve this goal by 2050.

Both the city and port conducted an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 while composing their respective climate action strategies. There isn’t a record of emissions countywide, Orjiako said, though staff will track this if it’s recommended by the state.

Despite this, reviewing how Clark County’s built and natural environment influences residents’ health isn’t a newly broached concept.

In 2012, the Clark County Public Health and an advisory council published the “Growing Healthier Report,” which touched on the nexus between climate change and human health, how certain groups are disproportionately affected, and policy recommendations to approach these challenges. Officials used the report to inform the county’s current comprehensive plan.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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Columbian staff writer