If you think the words “exciting” and “committee” are magnetic opposites, you should talk to Molly Beeman.
Just days after becoming Snohomish County’s energy and sustainability manager last July, Beeman learned the county had landed a state grant to pay for a climate risk assessment tool, and that her office would coordinate a new committee to support that and other climate-related work. She was delighted.
“I magically stepped into something that might have taken me five years to do,” Beeman said of the chance to communicate about the local effects of global warming. Each month since November, roughly 40 people have attended meetings of the Interdepartmental Climate Resiliency Committee.
“What makes me excited and positive is that people have really stuck with it,” Beeman said. “It’s the first time in my career where I’ve experienced that level of sustained interest and genuine desire to collaborate.”
Beeman previously worked at Everett Community College. Her responsibilities there included sustainability and space management, so she met regularly with Lisa Dulude, then in charge of the county’s Office of Energy and Sustainability. When Dulude left to become director of sustainability at the University of Washington, Beeman sought her job.
“I had a deep interest in promoting climate resiliency on a much broader platform,” she said.
Her biggest management challenges are shortages of resources and time, Beeman said. Her staff consists of herself and three temporary employees. She hopes to get more full-time help carrying what she calls the “three buckets” of her office: energy, environmental conservation and climate.
The energy bucket includes a weatherization program that provides free home energy improvements and conservation education to low-income households. A hundred homes were weatherized and 50 had ductless heat pumps installed in 2022. Another program, Energy Smart, provides county-guaranteed credit union loans for efficiency and renewable energy projects — think window replacement, solar panels, water heaters, insulation.
The office also coordinates C-PACER, a program that provides low-interest loans to help commercial, industrial, agricultural and multi-family buildings become more efficient and climate-resilient. Each loan is recorded as a lien, meaning if a building is sold, the assessment stays with it unless the payoff is part of the sale agreement.
Beeman’s environmental conservation work supports the county’s Puget Sound Initiative, created to protect and restore the region’s defining waterway, and the Healthy Forest Project. The latter is a community stewardship project to restore and care for the 11,704 acres of forested parks and natural areas managed by the county, among them Picnic Point, Lord Hill Park and the Evergreen State Fairgrounds.
The energy and conservation projects overlap with climate efforts in Beeman’s office. For example, electrification and insulation of buildings reduces the use of planet-warming fossil fuels. Trees absorb carbon and cool neighborhoods.
The Climate Change Vulnerability & Risk Assessment, expected to be released in July, will demonstrate why climate change is a county priority. The digital tool will help residents understand the impact on the places they live and work, a combination of geography and demographics. For example, Beeman’s community of Warm Beach is popular with retirees. Older folks are at higher risk during heat waves.
Input from the ICRC members helped to build the assessment tool. Employees in different departments bring different perspectives, Beeman said. Consider how emergency responders and foresters look at the presence of trees near homes in areas prone to fire.
“If we are encouraging tree canopy, for example, we could also be encouraging wildfire,” Beeman said.
Completion of the assessment tool is just the start of the climate committee’s work from the perspective of Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers.
“The issue is not going to go away,” he said. “It’s only going to get stronger.”
The ICRC is comprised of 21 departments, offices and divisions that Somers supervises. Some have major and obvious climate connections. Planning and Development Services is updating the county’s Growth Management Plan, which has a new section devoted to climate change. Surface Water Management and Public Works deal with roads that are increasingly vulnerable to floods. Facilities oversees care buildings that face increased demand for cooling. Human Services helps people who are suffering during heat waves.
The sheriff’s office, one of those not under Somers, “has a huge fleet of vehicles,” he said.
Might the county collaborate with its other local governments to address climate change?
“At some point, after we get our thoughts together, I think that would be good,” Somers said. He pointed to an existing city-county collaboration to deal with the opioid epidemic, and Snohomish County Tomorrow, which brings together 19 cities and the Tulalip Tribes in oversight of county planning policies.
Meanwhile, the county has not one but two climate committees. In 2019, Somers convened a citizens group called the Climate Action Advisory Committee. He met recently with its chair, Tom Campbell, who has been concerned about the group’s ability to influence county decision making. Somers acknowledged that frustration.
“We all got diverted and lost focus during COVID,” Somers said. “I told him, ‘I want you to be creative, bring your concerns and ideas forward.’”
Beeman also coordinates the advisory committee. Its potential to make a difference, especially when it comes to helping underserved communities, is another source of excitement for her.
“We’ve made a huge amount of progress,” she said. “When I came on, the 13-member committee had five regular attendees.”
Three vacancies were filled this spring, so the roster is full.
Billions of climate-focused federal dollars are working their way through the pipeline to local governments, Beeman noted. That makes this a good time to influence county efforts to help reverse climate change and deal with its repercussions.
“The scale of the crisis is so vast and requires urgent action,” she said. “Thankfully, in Snohomish County we have the infrastructure to scale up climate action efforts as new federal funding becomes available.”
Julie Titone: email@example.com; Twitter: @julietitone.
Julie Titone is a freelance writer who reports on climate change for The Daily Herald. Her journalism is supported by the Herald’s Environmental andClimate Reporting Fund. Learn more and donate: heraldnet.com/climate-fund.
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