PORT ANGELES — Clallam County should require 5G wireless companies to comply with federal environmental law, the Charter Review Commission has recommended.
The three county commissioners received the recommendation but took no formal action on the proposal Monday.
The recommendation was the second of three approved by a majority of the Charter Review Commission. It stems from concerns over the health and environmental impacts of 5G.
Local governments cannot prohibit or regulate personal wireless service facilities under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
“I do not see the merit in an ordnance that does nothing but restate existing federal law,” Commissioner Bill Peach said in a virtual work session Monday.
“I do not believe that commissioners should make a habit of reinforcing existing law when the statue’s already in place.”
The recommendation directs commissioners to “take all required and necessary legal actions to ensure that any franchise associated with new radio frequency devices or systems operating in the micro or millimeter wave frequency range be accompanied by a scientific study determining that such law, regulation or franchise is in compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) prior to the enactment or granting of any franchise.”
Clallam County Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Stanley said NEPA already requires compliance.
“A county ordinance saying you have to comply with the federal law doesn’t make much of a change to the federal law,” Stanley said.
Stanley added that a new court ruling makes it “even more difficult for local governments to regulate these types of installations.”
Board Chairman Mark Ozias said he would work with Stanley on a process for addressing the three recommendations from the Charter Review.
Earlier this month, the elected Charter Review Commission forwarded a recommendation that commissioners take immediate steps to address a lack of affordable housing in Clallam County.
Commissioners next Monday will receive a final recommendation to hire a forester to monitor the state Department of Natural Resources’ management of county trust lands.
“Once we have received all of those (recommendations), we’ll bring that back to a work session for commissioners to comment upon,” Ozias said.
5G uses microcells for wireless networks and promises faster speeds when connecting to the network and the ability to connect many devices to the internet without bogging it down.
The recommendation was presented by Charter Review Commissioner Tony Corrado.
“By far this was the one amendment that received the most citizen comment,” Corrado told county commissioners.
Forty public speakers testified at Charter Review meetings in support of the recommendation and two opposed it, Corrado said.
Ten of the 15 members of the Charter Review panel voted to put forth the recommendation, he said.
“This is an extremely complex subject, we know that, and it’s technical,” Corrado said.
Corrado said the electromagnetic field, or EMF, can have adverse effects on plants, animals and humans.
Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said 5G technology does not pose a health threat to the public.
“The current evidence is that 5G is not dangerous to human health,” Unthank said in a Monday email.
Corrado cited research from Washington State University biochemistry professor Martin Pall in a slide presentation.
“The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and the industry is remaining strangely silent and refusing to publish contrary data and contrary studies,” Corrado told commissioners.
“If industry and government entities come before you, you have no mechanism to see the other side because it’s simply their strategy — it’s a good one — to deny it, deny the science and put forth their arguments.”
A local ordnance that mirrors existing federal law would give citizens a mechanism to challenge the roll-out of 5G networks, Corrado said.
“We tried as much as we could to not put the county in a position of having to do something that was difficult to comprehend and difficult to enforce,” Corrado said.
“This is simply compliance with the federal law. What happens if people don’t comply with it? Don’t know. But at least people have options.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].