The Northwest Power and Conservation Council has a big job: ensuring the region has a 20-year plan for managing the energy and fish and wildlife resources of the Columbia River Basin. Its plan guides the Bonneville Power Administration and is supposed to "balance the Northwest's environment and energy needs."
When the 40-year-old agency hired Bill Edmonds, currently the director of environmental policy for NW Natural, on June 25 to be just the third executive director in its history, there was immediate pushback.
Critics began a dialogue on Edmonds' LinkedIn page, noting that Edmonds, whose job will be to help the region reduce its dependence on carbon, spent the past 30 years working for two fossil fuel companies, PacifiCorp and NW Natural.
Second, they noted that as a white male, Edmonds looks a lot like the people who have made the region's energy decisions for decades (seven of the NPCC's board members are white males).
"I was taken aback to see the Power Council select a white man from a fossil fuel company to become the new leader for their organization," wrote Josh Keeling, who works for Cadeo, an energy research firm. "We desperately need strong voices that have been underrepresented in positions of leadership as we seek to remove carbon from all facets of the energy economy."
Tanya Barham, who runs a local startup called Community Energy Labs and overlapped with Edmonds when she worked at the green energy nonprofit PECI and he served on the board, was even more direct in her comments about the clubby nature of the local energy industry.
"Talk is cheap," Barham wrote. "Leaders need to stop making performative and platitudinous gestures, stop exempting themselves and their friends from accountability for systemic inequity and start dismantling systems of privilege because EVERYONE is going to need to be engaged to fight climate change and social inequality."
Edmonds did not return a call seeking comment, but he responded to the comments on his LinkedIn page.
"We have work ahead of us for sure to make sure we're moving with intention towards this goal to be more inclusive," Edmonds wrote. "To be credible and enduring, our work must incorporate all voices, including those of Black and brown people that are often overlooked and almost always disproportionately impacted."
The organization he'll lead includes two representatives each from Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. It has a $12 million annual budget, and the recruitment materials posted for Edmonds' job offered a salary range of $147,000 to $170,000.
The council's chairman, former state Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin), defended the hire.
"The Northwest Power and Conservation Council selected Bill Edmonds as our new executive director after a careful and extensive search throughout the region," Devlin said in a statement.
"All eight council members conducted interviews with the 10 applicants we believed were the most qualified to lead the Council. The Council unanimously agreed that Bill was the most well prepared applicant for the position. He had the right combination of management experience, as well as a broad background in the energy sector.
"While it is true that Bill comes from the fossil fuel industry, it would be misleading to characterize him as a person sympathetic to fossil fuel interests. In his most recent position, he was the lead person covering all environmental issues, including energy efficiency, environmental policy, greenhouse gas reduction strategies, and environmental compliance."