Cook County becomes first Minnesota county to declare climate emergency
WTIP file photo

Cook County becomes first Minnesota county to declare climate emergency

There is a climate emergency in Cook County.

This sentiment is the centerpiece of a resolution adopted by the Cook County Board of Commissioners Feb. 22. The resolution declares a climate emergency in the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior landscape that makes up the large county in northeastern Minnesota.

Cook County is the first county in the state to declare a climate emergency. Other branches of local government and more than a dozen cities across the state, including the Grand Marais City Council, Duluth and Minneapolis, have adopted similar resolutions declaring a climate emergency.

Local youth climate activists, Olya Wright and Naomi Tracy-Hegg, presented information on the climate resolution to the commissioners and other county staff during a committee of the whole work session Feb. 15. Both were present again this week, requesting the commissioners to adopt the resolution.

“If we want to change the course we’re on, every level of government has to take action,” Wright said on Tuesday. “Long past is the time where we can transfer the responsibility to federal or state governments. Long past is the time that we can say ‘well, Congress isn’t doing anything, that’s too bad.’ You are the policy makers. You have the power to contribute to the journey. You have to act.”

County Administrator James Joerke said the county is in a position to address climate change on the local level, including reducing CO2 emissions from government buildings, vehicles and by adding green infrastructure. There could be opportunities for the county to add or improve such infrastructure as it looks to formalize its capital improvement plan in the months ahead, Joerke said. Funding from the state could play a role in these improvements if Gov. Tim Walz’s ‘local jobs and projects’ plan moves forward in the 2022 legislative session. Walz asked the legislature last month to allocate more than $262 million toward the environment, including $190 million for climate change projects statewide, the Associated Press reports.

There were nearly a dozen public comments submitted by Cook County residents to the county board during Tuesday’s meeting in support of the resolution to declare a climate emergency.

WTIP will track the progress of what steps the county takes to address the climate emergency on the local level. Listen to the audio below to hear Joerke describe some of the first steps the county plans to take moving forward.