Clallam County commissioner candidates Bill Peach, left, and Mike Doherty chatted last week before their debate for the Port Angeles-West End District 3 position. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam County commissioner candidates Bill Peach, left, and Mike Doherty chatted last week before their debate for the Port Angeles-West End District 3 position. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam panel candidates spar on carbon tax, climate change

FORKS — The two candidates for District 3 Clallam County commissioner disagreed on climate change and a related topic, carbon-fee Initiative 1631, at a forum.

They also parted ways on housing and electric vehicles as Nov. 6, Election Day, draws closer.

Incumbent Republican Bill Peach and Democratic challenger Mike Doherty, a former District 3 commissioner, appeared at an hour-long League of Women Voters of Clallam County debate Tuesday in the multipurpose room of Peninsula College’s Forks branch.

Doherty, a Port Angeles resident, served four, four-year terms as the District 3 commissioner until 2014, when he did not run for re-election.

Peach, a Forks resident, is a former Rayonier timber company regional manager.

Peach lost the District 3 position to Doherty in 2010 when voting for the seat was countywide.

Peach defeated Sissi Bruch of Port Angeles in 2014 after voting became limited to the district, setting up a rematch between the established political foes.

The district has more than 14,350 registered voters — a third of whom live in Port Angeles precincts and the rest in the West End — who were mailed ballots Wednesday in the District 3-only election.

Ballots are due at the Clallam County courthouse or in county ballot drop-boxes by 8 p.m. Nov. 6 or must be postmarked by Nov. 6.

An audience member among the approximately 40 who were present at the debate, in which the candidates provided rebuttals, asked Peach and Doherty about their views on climate change and its effect on fire, water and resource issues in Clallam County.

Doherty, noting as he did throughout the forum his participation in regional and gubernatorial committees — in this case climate change panels — recalled driving through California when wildfires raged there.

“I understand, as the globe warms, we are going to face that up here,” he said.

“It’s something we should do a lot more to prevent and get ready to respond to.”

The county is “the fifth most highest risk for high catastrophic loss” in Washington state, he said, citing a grant that paid for a study while he was commissioner.

Peach linked the issue to preserving forest habitat for threatened-endangered species and how fruitless those preservation policies will be when forests burn.

About 553,000 acres of the 1.2 million managed by the state Department of Natural Resources is managed for purposes other than timber production, Peach said.

“What good is that for these species when it burns down?” he asked.

Peach argued for more emphasis on improving firefighters’ communications systems and training personnel to better combat wildfires.

“I do believe there is a change in our climate,” Peach said.

“I do not believe that this is man-made.

“I think what we need to do is focus on the issue of resiliency, focus on the system.”’

Peach said in an interview Friday that he believes humans contribute to climate change.

“I think it’s minuscule,” he said.

“When we start looking at all the issues that could have an influence on carbon dioxide, how could you single out one issue?

“I don’t care if it’s volcanoes or planetary motion.

“I’m sure that will get a lot of people jumping up and down, but that’s the way it goes.”

Doherty and Peach also disagreed on electric vehicles.

Peach, citing his membership on the Clallam Transit board of directors as a county commissioner, said electric vehicles are impractical in rural communities such as Clallam County.

“It has its time and its place and it’s not ready,” he said.

He cited large recalls of Toyota Prius cars and their unreliability in coordinating the hybrid vehicles’ gas and electric systems.

“That’s old news what Bill is talking about,” Doherty responded.

Doherty said he would be “more active” than Peach, suggesting his opponent is a one-issue commissioner who focuses mainly on timber.

Peach said he is proud of his membership on the DNR Board of Natural Resources, “a position I cherish” as he fights, he said, to obtain timber proceeds for schools and hospitals.

Peach told the audience he is “working very hard to get that money for you.”

Peach said he has been a leader in getting DNR to report accurate timber harvest totals.

“We are working to convince DNR that they have a fiduciary responsibility to tell us the revenue so we can plan accordingly,” he said.

“I’d rather work with 21 timber counties than work on my own,” Doherty responded.

He recalled that Peach was the lone no-vote when the board in November 2017 approved setting aside 620,000-624,000 acres of Western Washington forest land to protect a threatened seabird, the marbled murrelet

“I would have worked with timber counties,” Doherty said.

Peach defended his position, saying that voting otherwise would have violated his “fiduciary responsibility.”

Former Forks Mayor Nedra Reed told Doherty that when the city of Forks was in litigation with DNR over a sustainable forest harvest, “you did not support us.”

She asked Doherty how he believes he could support this community if elected “when quite frankly you weren’t there for us.”

“I don’t recall anything like that,” Doherty responded, adding that Reed was not present at meetings with other timber counties.

“I think I can understand all sides and listen,” he said.

Peach and Doherty also were asked about Initiative 1631, which would set a carbon emissions fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon released by polluters.

The revenue would pay for reducing pollution and promoting clean energy under the oversight of a public board.

The candidates were asked if they supported a “carbon tax” by a questioner who asserted it could raise electric rates.

“It’s not a tax, it’s a fee,” insisted Doherty, adding that the initiative is an investment in “our kids” and the future.

Peach called it a tax on working people and said more focus should be trained on “carbon capture.”

Asked about obtaining grants for low-income housing, Doherty said grants could be used for upgrading houses that are abandoned and in foreclosure.

“Improving neighborhoods one house at a time is important,” he said.

Peach, saying he has the endorsement of the Port Angeles Association of Realtors, said jobs are the real issue.

“I don’t believe as much that there’s a shortage of affordable housing as there is a shortage of family wage jobs,” he said

“Other people’s money, that’s the attitude you just heard, let’s use tax dollars.

“Central government has a role, but this is a role for private industry.

“That’s the big difference between Mike and I.

“I don’t support the notion of other people’s money.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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