Port of Columbia County Commissioner Nancy Ward is making strides, not only as a new commissioner on the port, but also as the first Columbia County politician to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.
The pledge, which Ward signed at a Vernonia event in October, is from the youth-led Sunrise Movement, a grassroots organization to stop climate change, according to its website. The pledge involves politicians promising to reject contributions from fossil fuel executives, lobbyists and their front groups, according to a statement on the group’s website.
Ward was introduced to the Sunrise Movement and its pledge by Michael Calhoun, a Vernonia resident who is currently studying for a post-baccalaureate degree in environmental studies at the University of Oregon. Calhoun is a volunteer with the organization.
“[Calhoun] sent the info, I read it over, I thought, ‘well, absolutely, this is everything I believe, why wouldn’t I sign it?’ So this was a really easy decision to make,” Ward said.
The pledge means that if any fossil fuel industry in Columbia County were to offer Ward money for a campaign, Ward would decline them.
“What I’m saying is, this is not where our future lies,” Ward said. “To my understanding, the fossil fuel industry is trying very hard to stay alive, and the way they stay alive is they support people who will in turn support them. I would rather support an industry that is moving away from fossil fuels and moving toward things that are more sustainable.”
Ward said she does not think rejecting money from fossil fuel interests will be difficult to do, as she was able to run a successful campaign for Port commissioner on limited funds.
“Money is not what I use in getting my message out. That will continue whether I choose to run again or not. If I can’t win by spending my own money, I’m not going to try to win by taking other people’s money, especially people I don’t know,” Ward said.
The pledge for Ward is tied to other issues she sees in both the environment and in politics, she said. One of those issues is what she described as excessive funds for politicians.
“At our level, it’s a very small amount, but you get into county, state, federal, we all know that politics gets polluted by money,” Ward said.
Ward also said she tries to help the environment by doing things such as buying locally-grown produce rather than produce that has been shipped from long distances.
“It’s making these conscious choices and I’m making them for myself, and I’m not imposing my ideas on anyone else. But I hope that enough of us make these types of informed choices,” Ward said.
While Ward would like to see other politicians sign the pledge, she said she is not trying to convince anyone to follow her lead. However, she said she would like other politicians to put thought into whom they accept donations from, especially because candidates’ campaign donations are public knowledge.
“People can go and look at every contribution you get that’s over $100, and people will start judging you on every person you take money from, and I think that’s wonderful,” Ward said. “It’s about whose name do people think that I’m associated with? It’s all about conscious choices.”
So far, 37 politicians have signed the pledge in Oregon, including U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, according to the petition on the organization’s website. As of press time, the petition has more than 1,800 total signatures.
“Some people get confrontational when you point out they’re taking money [from fossil fuel agencies], but we need more than speeches,” Calhoun said. “That’s the viewpoint of what the pledge is. It’s challenging to speak truth to power, but we’re starting.”