Power To The (Native) Peoples


Joe Pakootas wants to become the first Native American to represent Washington

By Nathan Thornburgh, ALJAZEERA AMERICA

Candidate Joe Pakootas, center, walks with his family in the Perry Street Parade in Spokane, Washington July 26, 2014. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

Candidate Joe Pakootas, center, walks with his family in the Perry Street Parade in Spokane, Washington July 26, 2014. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of profiles of people running for office in America who are unlikely to win, but who believe so strongly in their cause that they still try. The first profile, on Bruce Skarin’s efforts in Massachusetts, can be read here.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Ever since Lewis and Clark rolled down the mighty Columbia with a presidential writ, politicians and the judges they appoint have controlled the fortunes of Joe Pakootas’ people. Executive orders confined his ancestors to the Colville Reservation, acts of Congress deprived them of gold-rich foothills, and federal judges ruled from afar about their basic rights as Americans. Now, for the first time ever, a registered tribal member is making a serious bid to represent the people of Washington state’s 5th District in Congress. Running against incumbent Cathy McMorris Rodgers is none other than Joe Pakootas.

It is a tough challenge. Not only is Pakootas (pronounced pah-KOH-tas) running as a Democrat in a deeply conservative district, but his main opponent is also the kind of blandly affirmative incumbent who is particularly hard to unseat. McMorris Rodgers is running for her sixth term and is the fourth-ranking House Republican. She’s a hard worker with unexceptional views and an up-by-her-bootstraps biography (first in her family to earn a college degree, worked at McDonald’s to pay her way through school) that she can wield smoothly, as she did when she gave the GOP’s response to the State of the Union address in January. She has raised a tremendous amount of money without much visible effort and won’t really begin campaigning in the district until after the Aug. 5 multiparty primary, in which the top two candidates (regardless of party) advance to the November ballot.

Pakootas speaks at the Stevens County 7th District Picnic in Chewelah, Washington, July 26, 2014. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

Pakootas speaks at the Stevens County 7th District Picnic in Chewelah, Washington, July 26, 2014. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America


The only Democrat running (the other two candidates are a Tea Party Republican and an independent), Pakootas has still had to work very hard just to have a chance in the primary. Running as a Democrat in the 5th District is, as one organizer put it, “taking one for the party,” and the Democrats in Spokane had to convince Pakootas, the chief operating officer (CEO) of the Colville Tribal Federal Corp., which manages tribal business and brought in $86 million in gross revenue last year, that he should accept the challenge. The Native population can’t deliver many votes (there are just over 9,000 registered Colville members, the largest Native group in the district), but Democratic Party officials saw Pakootas’ potential to be a rare crossover figure.

Pakootas, 57, has an undeniably compelling story. Like his opponent, he comes from humble roots. McMorris Rodgers’ father owned an orchard in small-town Kettle Falls and had political aspirations of his own. Pakootas had a somewhat rougher road: he was born on the reservation and was a ward of the state by the time he was in the second grade. He and six of his seven siblings were sent to live with a foster family on a dairy farm off the reservation; it was three years before they were reunited with their parents. The only one of his siblings who didn’t grow up to be an alcoholic or drug addict was an older brother who died in a motorcycle accident as a teenager. Pakootas himself was a star athlete in high school, but he “went the path of drinking,” as he puts it, for a couple years. By the time he straightened out, his athletic career was derailed, and he was married, with a child on the way.


The candidate surveys damage at the Rainbow Beach Resort, one of the businesses he supervises as the CEO of the Colville Tribal Federal Corporation. Cabins at the resort, located on the Colville Indian Reservation, were destroyed by a storm with heavy winds.Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

The candidate surveys damage at the Rainbow Beach Resort, one of the businesses he supervises as the CEO of the Colville Tribal Federal Corporation. Cabins at the resort, located on the Colville Indian Reservation, were destroyed by a storm with heavy winds.Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

That he managed to become the man he is today — the Colville CEO who helped turn around tribal finances and helped lead a successful lawsuit against a Canadian mining firm that was polluting the Columbia River — is a testament to his character. For the first time in its history, the Colville Corp. is managed entirely by Native Americans, from Washington state and beyond. Pakootas has instituted a more Native-friendly culture for the employees, including things like extended leave for root-gathering season in the spring. He has also cut waste by shuttering unprofitable mills and houseboat concessions owned by the tribe, while focusing on profitable casinos and the next great hope for the tribe’s future growth: luring corporations by offering offshore-style tax concessions on the reservation. He credits his time in foster care with helping him be at ease with non-Native culture, and he worked his way up in industries — construction and later drilling and blasting — that were at times downright hostile to Native Americans. And he’s done all this while running a successful convenience store in his hometown of Inchelium. He’s been married for 38 years to his high school sweetheart; they have four children and six beautiful grandkids.

But having a great story isn’t the same as being able to tell it glibly on command. Over lunch at the gilded Davenport Hotel, in downtown Spokane, Pakootas is disarmingly thoughtful and honest. He’ll tell you about why he wears a Livestrong bracelet (for the friends and family he lost to cancer). He’ll explain that the End of the Trail pendant, based on the iconic James Earle Fraser sculpture of the plains Native American slumped in the saddle, is around his neck because it was his deceased brother’s favorite artwork: “[his death] is constantly with me,” he says. And if you ask about the aplastic anemia bracelet on his other arm, he’ll start to cry: he lost a 6-year-old niece to the disease.

That emotional honesty is not just his own personality, he says later; it is also Native culture. One of the human-resources reforms he instituted as CEO was to allow a more flexible bereavement schedule for employees. “Non-Indians can take an afternoon off for a funeral,” Pakootas says. “But we need a week, maybe two. We need time.”


Pakootas and his family prepare to walk in the Perry Street Parade. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

Pakootas and his family prepare to walk in the Perry Street Parade. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

Native culture is, in some ways, at odds with the two main chores of electioneering: self-promotion and fundraising. “That’s the worst part for me,” he says. “I never could talk about myself. I never could grovel for money, and I guess that’s kind of what we’re doing,” he says, laughing. When he ran for the tribal council, he did a lot of door-to-door politicking, which was fine, but “out here it’s all about money. And I’m not very good at it.”

Susan Brudnicki, an energetic former federal employee who is managing Pakootas’ campaign, has done everything short of locking him in a room with a phone and a call list for fundraising. Like his opponent, he has gone far outside the district for money. But he hasn’t had her success. “There are 566 tribes in the United States,” he says. “And I’ve called 80 percent of them.” He knows many of their leaders from as far back as the days when he played in rez-ball high-school-basketball tournaments all over the country. The Colville and Spokane tribes have given the maximum amount, but turning that farther-flung network into money has proved difficult.  “They say the same thing you hear from non-Indians,” he says. “They say it’s not a winnable race.”


Taking a phone call after the Parade in Spokane. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

Taking a phone call after the Parade in Spokane. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

Native groups are active in politics in the gaming era, but more as tactical donors, not as boosters for Native candidates. That could explain, in part, why there are so few Native Americans running for federal office. Pakootas says he talked briefly with a Native congressional candidate in Minnesota who later dropped out of the race. There are two Republican legislators from Oklahoma with Native roots, but through the ages, the list of Native American politicians is woefully thin.

The end result is this: even with the money raised from Native American groups and tribes, Pakootas has raised less than $100,000. McMorris Rodgers has raised more than $2 million. That leaves retail politics. Brudnicki got Pakootas to start seeing a speech coach, to help him take the “ain’ts” and “innits” out of his sentences. But the nerves are harder to conquer; he carries around a moisturizing mouth spray — “my go-get-’em juice,” he jokes — for dry mouth, which plagues him when he speaks in public.


Outside of Pakootas' office in Spokane. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

Outside of Pakootas’ office in Spokane. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

At a candidate forum hosted by the advocacy group in the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation in a school cafeteria in Republic, Washington, more than two hours northwest of Spokane, Pakootas is impeccably turned out in a blue suit with blue tie. Most of the other candidates and the hundred or so attendees are dressed in jeans and T-shirts and the like. Everyone in the room except Pakootas is Caucasian, from the two policemen wearing military-grade body armor to the nervous guy who asks the candidates who’s going to put a check on the environmentalists.

Pakootas certainly looks like a politician: smooth skin, strong jaw, and good hair. (One political consultant who normally advises against using candidate pictures on billboards had a change of heart upon meeting Pakootas face to face.) But his delivery still needs work. He starts answers strong enough, citing statistics about rising poverty in the district and defending the role of government in creating jobs. But he tends to flee at the end of his answers, to talk quickly and then sit quickly.


Pakootas jokes with his son-in-law, left and daughter. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

Pakootas jokes with his son-in-law, left and daughter. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

McMorris Rodgers isn’t there, but the other two opponents are, and they fare no better. Dave Wilson, a successful Spokane businessman running as an independent, promises to “end the gridlock” without coming close to articulating how. Tom Horne, a conservative Republican, follows that by huffing that gridlock in Washington is the whole point: “It keeps things from getting worse faster.” When the break comes, Pakootas retreats to the back of the room, near the table where the lemonade and brownies are being served, and makes small talk with Brudnicki and a few of his volunteers until it’s time to go.

The crowd is much smaller the next evening in Colville, the seat of Stevens County, an area that one resident calls a “biker-gang retirement community.” Colville is also ranching and logging country, and there’s a deeply Western conservatism here. Fewer than two dozen people have shown up for the Pakootas “town hall” at the pavilion in Yep Kanum Park, and the crowd looks somehow even smaller under the tall trees. But the Democrats who are here are true believers, both in progressivism and in this candidate. The owner of the local window shop thanks Pakootas for running. Walt Kloefkorn, the Washington state coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America, rattles off a list of Democratic candidates from prior elections, all unserious or underqualified in some way. “I think Joe’s one of the best Democratic candidates in years,” he says.

And it’s true: in the smaller crowd, much more receptive to his set menu of pro-choice, pro-environment policies, Pakootas is at ease. Speaking into a small mic attached to a portable amp Brudnicki brought, he tells jokes and gets laughs. He tells his own story with a bit more polish than the night before.

After the speech, the Rev. Jim CastroLang of the local United Church of Christ comes over and shakes Pakootas’ hand. He congratulates the candidate on staying upbeat, despite the odds. “You know how it goes,” he says. “You can’t win — until you do.”

A Pakootas supporter wears the candidate's buttons. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America

A Pakootas supporter wears the candidate’s buttons. Ian C. Bates for Al Jazeera America


This series is produced in partnership with Roads & Kingdoms.



Three Tribes Win Coveted Washington State Environmental Education Awards

Northwest Indian Fisheries CommissionHabitat restoration efforts such as removal of the Elwha Dam, shown here in process on October 8, 2011, have helped bring back salmon spawning grounds.

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Habitat restoration efforts such as removal of the Elwha Dam, shown here in process on October 8, 2011, have helped bring back salmon spawning grounds.

Indian Country Today


Three tribes are among the recipients of the Green Apple Awards given for environmental education initiatives by the not-for-profit group E3 Washington, a professional group that provides education on environmental development and stability.

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, President Fawn Sharp of the Quinault Indian Nation and State Senator John McCoy of the Tulalip Tribes will receive awards, E3 announced on June 11. In addition, Billy Frank, Jr., Nisqually tribal elder and longtime chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, will be honored at a gala and awards ceremony to take place on June 26.

E3 is an outgrowth of the Environmental Education Association of Washington (EEAW), the state’s professional association for environmental and sustainability educators and stakeholders. The initiative was established in 2005, when the Governor’s Council on Environmental Education asked the association to take the lead in planning environmental education, according to the EEAW website. “E3” stands for education, environment, and economy. The EEAW is in turn affiliated with the North American Association for Environmental Education.

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe was chosen to receive the President’s Award for both honoring elder wisdom and teaching youth self-respect, said retired teacher Marie Marrs, who nominated the tribe.

RELATED: Klallam Dictionary Helps Effort to Save Endangered Native Language

“The annual paddle journeys, alcohol and drug free, are strong signs of cultural revival,” Marrs said, according to the E3 statement. “The Klallam language is taught at local high schools, as a foreign language. Tribal leaders are visible, and honored, at many community events. Native youth are enrolled in natural resource programs at the area Skill Center, as well as Peninsula College, acquiring specials skills and internships with local economic and environmental power bases such as Battelle, Olympic National Park, NOAA, Merrill Ring, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and the Feiro Marine Science Center, as well as their own natural resource/fisheries programs. Skill Center classes are co-taught with a tribal culture specialist as part of the team. Peninsula College has a Longhouse, a House of Learning, for special gatherings and ceremonies, the first in the nation to be built on a community college campus.”

Noting that the very aim of the E3 Washington Lead Green goal is to use every location as a teaching tool, E3 Washington board president Tom Hulst—who selected the Llower Elwha Klallam for the award—said that numerous sites managed by the tribe reach this ideal.

“The E3 Washington Lead Green goal is that every place, be it a building or other site becomes a ‘learning laboratory’ for the shift to sustainability,” Hulst said. “In the case of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe multiple sites under its management meets this goal!”

Sharp will accept the Green Apple Award, which recognizes awareness of indigenous knowledge, language and values, as well as encourages a multicultural approach to environmental and sustainability education, all while exemplifying E3’s Lead Green goal, according to the release.  Sharp, who is also president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and area vice president of the National Congress of American Indians, was nominated by Olympia-based businessman Steve Robinson.

“President Sharp is a very dynamic leader whose incredible energy level is matched only by her skill as a leader and her enthusiastic approach toward serving her people as well both Indian and non-Indian people, particularly in such fields as sustainability, environmental education and health and human rights,” Robinson said in his nomination. “She has long been active in environmental education at all levels, providing leadership in the classroom, the outdoors and the intergovernmental arena. Just one example of many major successes resulting from her leadership was last summer’s Paddle to Quinault—a highly successful canoe journey that brought traditional canoes from near and far to the Quinault homeland. It was a major cultural event enjoyed by thousands, and was a huge historic achievement in helping to build bridges of understanding between tribal and non-tribal communities.”

RELATED: 5 More Native American Visionaries in Washington State

For his part state Senator John McCoy, Democrat, will receive the 2014 Diversity in Action-Individual E3 Washington Green Apple Award, which “recognizes an individual, organization, tribe or program that demonstrates cultural awareness and encourages a multicultural approach to environmental and sustainability education programs while exemplifying the Lead Green goal,” the E3 statement said.

“Senator McCoy has been a tireless leader in many capacities which have served environmental education, multiculturalism and diversity well,” said Robinson, who nominated McCoy as well as Sharp. “His presence on ‘the hill’ in Olympia has provided an immeasurable amount of benefit to both tribal and non-tribal people and governments. He has sponsored phenomenal, far-reaching legislation, ranging from bills to integrate Indian culture and history into the classroom to a bill to establish Indian Heritage Day. Senator McCoy is one of the hardest working legislators in Olympia and he is committed to the protection and restoration of a healthy, vibrant environment for all.”

Frank, who passed away on May 5, was involved in E3 and will be honored at the awards ceremony, which will take place The awards will be presented at E3’s Summer Evening Awards Event 2014, A Summer Celebration of Environmental and Sustainability Education, on June 26.

RELATED: Billy Frank Jr., 1931-2014: ‘A Giant’ Will Be Missed

“Billy Frank, who was E3’s honorary co-chair, was a friend to, and tireless advocate for, all people and species,” said Ruskey. “His spirit lives in us and continues to guide us, as he always will.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/06/15/three-tribes-win-coveted-washington-state-environmental-education-awards-155312?page=0%2C1

More oil spills ahead for Puget Sound?

Ingrid TaylarThe Puget Sound — prettier without an oily sheen.

Ingrid TaylarThe Puget Sound — prettier without an oily sheen.

By John Upton, Grist
The Puget Sound — prettier without an oily sheen.

It looks like Puget Sound – which isn’t actually a noise but a sprawling and ecologically rich estuary in Washington state – is about to get a whole lot oilier.

An ugly trifecta of fossil fuel export projects proposed around the sound would substantially boost shipping traffic, and a new report funded by the EPA and produced by academic scientists for a state agency warns that can be expected to bring oil spills with it.

If the Gateway Pacific coal export terminal is built at Cherry Point, Wash., and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline into Vancouver is expanded, and Vancouver’s Deltaport is expanded, the report warns that the frequency of ship groundings and collisions could rise by 18 percent. Regionally, the risks of a large oil spill could rise by about two-thirds, the researchers found. Here’s more from the AP:

“The problem area is the Haro Strait area and the approach to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where spill volumes could more than triple due to the potential new mix and volume of traffic,” said Todd Hass with the Puget Sound Partnership, the agency is charged with protecting the waterway.

Under a proposal by Kinder Morgan Canada, up to 34 tankers a month would be loaded with oil at a Vancouver-area terminal, up from about five tankers a month now. Those tankers would generally travel through the Haro Strait west of San Juan Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The report concludes that the risks could be reduced through improved vessel traffic management, more vessel inspections, reduced speed limits for ships, and more tug escorts. And the report points out that those measures could help reduce oil spill dangers regardless of whether the dangerous fossil fuel projects move forward.

Report: Pedestrian Deaths Disproportionately Affect Native Americans In Wash. State


Bill Kramme Flickr

By Rae Ellen Bichell, KPLU

Listen to report


Pedestrians of American Indian descent at are at higher risk of death in Washington state, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a branch of Smart Growth America.

Washington placed 36th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in a ranking of the most dangerous states to the least dangerous based on the Pedestrian Danger Index, a combined measure of total pedestrian deaths, annual pedestrian deaths and the percentage of people commuting by foot over the past five to eight years. The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area ranked 49th out of 51 large metro areas.

But for Washingtonians of American Indian descent, the statistics aren’t as reassuring. Nationwide, Native Americans  have higher rates of fatal traffic accidents than other ethnicities. But that difference is particularly notable in Washington state where all other ethnic groups’ fatality rates are consistently lower than national averages.

Credit Rae Ellen Bichell

Credit Rae Ellen Bichell

‘The Gap, Unfortunately, Is Widening’ 

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission doesn’t plot pedestrian deaths against ethnicity, although it does publish statistics on factors like age and gender. A report on factors in Washington pedestrian fatalities from 2008 to 2012 acknowledges that “Native Americans are disproportionately killed in pedestrian crashes, representing 8.4 percent of pedestrian deaths but less than 2 percent of the total population.”

“The gap, unfortunately, is widening,” said MJ Haught, a program manager and tribal liaison for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Over the course of the past few decades, Haught said, the rate of Native American fatalities went from about 2.4 times that of the general population to 3.3. And in 2013, she said, “the data told us that Native American fatalities are 3.9 times higher than the general population. This is obviously not the way we want to go.”

Unlike Other Groups, Native Americans More At Risk On Rural Roads

Both statewide and nationwide, most pedestrian deaths occur in the more populated urban areas. But according to state data, more Native Americans were killed in crashes on rural roads than on urban ones, opposite the pattern seen with pedestrians of all other ethnicities.

Why? There’s no easy answer, but here are a few factors to consider.

Washington state has 29 federally-recognized American Indian tribes. Alaska, California and Oklahoma are the only other states with more tribes within their borders. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, only six states have American Indian and Alaska Native populations greater than that in Washington.

Each reservation is its own sovereign nation with its own laws, which means roads and signs are built and distributed differently. In rural areas, on tribal lands or off, there aren’t always sidewalks, and not all roads are well-lit.

According to the Center for Disease Control and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Americans of Native American and Alaska Native descent tend to be at higher risk of car injuries overall, not just as pedestrians. Some tribes don’t have seat belt laws.

“If you drill down, a huge factor is unbelted fatalities,” said Haught. “The unbelted fatality rate for native Americans is 7.2 times higher for Native Americans in Washington.”

Alcoholism is often cited as a contributing factor. But intoxication, particularly intoxicated pedestrians, is a contributing factor across the board and is not limited to one ethnicity.

Fatality Rate Likely Underreported

Even with the comparatively high rate of Native American pedestrian deaths reported, we may not be getting the full picture. Because each reservation is a sovereign nation, not every tribe shares data with the state, and the data that is available is conservative.

“The rates for fatalities are coming in with death certificates. We’re pretty good at getting all the reports that happen on Washington land, but not necessarily the reports from reservation land. That varies very much by the tribe and the reservation,” said Haught. “We are confident that the traffic deaths are underreported, so it’s an even worse problem than we realized.”

Thomas Holsworth is commander with the Colville Tribal Police Department in Nespelem, in northwest Washington. The reservation covers 1.4 million acres and, as in many rural areas, most of the roadways that crisscross it are narrow, windy country roads without sidewalks.

“The pedestrian walkways are basically the dirt shoulders of the roadways,” says Holsworth. “But I think a lot of it is, they just tend to walk more, sometimes out of necessity, because … they may not own an operable vehicle. There are others that just like to get out and walk, and there’s not a whole lot of safe places to do that.”

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have gone to great lengths to try to reduce traffic-related deaths on tribal lands, assimilating state traffic codes into their tribal code and launching multiple highway safety programs. Funded by a state grant, the tribes ran a public education campaign to increase awareness about using seat belts, driving under the influence, and launched projects to identify problem roads and walking paths.

In the last five years, Holsworth says, there has only been one pedestrian fatality.

Power and water: Will feds allow it for pot?

Alan Schreiber walks through rows of organic cantaloupe on his farm in Franklin County, Washington. Schreiber has applied to grow marijuana in Washington but is concerned about federal water resources. BOB BRAWDY — TRI-CITY HERALD

Alan Schreiber walks through rows of organic cantaloupe on his farm in Franklin County, Washington. Schreiber has applied to grow marijuana in Washington but is concerned about federal water resources. BOB BRAWDY — TRI-CITY HERALD


By C.R. Roberts, The News Tribune

Nobody seems quite sure of the answer: Will the federal government withhold services to the state, given the conflict between legally grown marijuana in Washington and a national drug policy that finds marijuana illegal?

If the answer is no, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will allow federal water to be used to irrigate marijuana crops, and the Bonneville Power Administration will allow federal power to be used in the cultivation of marijuana, primarily indoors.

If the answer is yes, then they won’t, in line with federal law.

With something of a wink and a nod, the U.S. Justice Department has provided soft guidance that conditionally allows financial institutions to do business with the marijuana industry. In the same way, utilities and regulatory officials could allow the provision of water and power if Congress could pass legislation the recognizes the will of Washington voters.

Or not.


The manufacture of one joint – a marijuana cigarette – will produce 1.5 kilograms of CO2 emissions, equal to the emissions of a 44-mpg hybrid car driving 22 miles. The energy used is equal to that used to produce 18 pints of beer.

U.S. electricity use for cannabis production is the equivalent of 1.7 million average homes, or the production of seven average U.S. power plants.

Of the total wholesale price of U.S.-grown marijuana, 49 percent goes to energy.

“Current indoor cannabis production and distribution practices result in prodigious energy use, costs and unchecked greenhouse-gas pollution,” said Evan Mills of Energy Associates, a California energy consulting firm. The figures are his, offered in a recent study.

“While the implications of I-502 for the criminal justice system, land use, taxation and many other issues have been widely debated, the potentially significant changes in electricity and water use that are likely to follow I-502’s implementation have received almost no scrutiny,” wrote Eric Christensen, of the local firm Gordon Thomas Honeywell, in a blog post last month.

He goes on to say that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, “legalization creates a new set of legal risks for utility service providers.”

Some utilities say they’re ready for the risks and implications. Maybe.


More questions: Is Bonneville concerned about the draw on the electrical grid? Has the use of electricity by growers and processors been discussed? Have plans been developed? Will marijuana cultivation and sale have any effect on Northwest power?

“While we are beginning to look at what potential impacts might be, we are not prepared to discuss those issues at this time,” replied BPA spokesman Doug Johnson to an inquiry last week.

Will the utility continue to supply “federal” power to Washington utilities that serve the cannabis industry?

“We are currently exploring these issues. Again, it is too early to discuss the potential policy implications or details of those discussions,” Johnson wrote.

In reality, electricity is already being supplied to the industry.

The greatest effect so far has fallen on Pacific County, home to Raymond, Long Beach and the aptly named Tokeland.

There, an entrepreneur has applied to use 20 megawatts of electricity, which works out to 40 percent of the county’s entire electrical load.

“We have contacted Bonneville (Power Administration), and we are working with Bonneville to build a new substation,” said Jason Dunsmoor, chief of engineering and operations for the Pacific County PUD.

“They will have their own substation,” he said, estimating that the infrastructure cost for the facility and the transmission line will cost some $3 million.

“We’re just providing the service,” he said. “The concern of everybody who invests is that the federal government could change its mind.”

Including the Pacific County facility, by last week the state Liquor Control Board had approved license applications for marijuana processors in 17 counties.


“We are going to get together and do some inquiries. We haven’t had any specific inquiries. We’ll be taking a look at it and discussing it,” said Karen Miller, communications manager at the Benton County Public Utility District.

“We’re looking at it and trying to make sure we understand all the ramifications and impacts,” she said.

Deb Bone-Harris, Franklin County community and government relations manager, said her utility has “not heard a concern about federal power being an issue. We’d have to deal with that if the time an opportunity were to come up.”

“There has been no formal discussion or agenda item related to this issue at the board level,” said Neil Neroutsos, spokesman for the Snohomish County PUD.

“Puget Sound Energy has a duty and obligation to serve customers under Washington state law,” said Ray Lane, spokesman for Puget Sound Energy, which serves several counties in the state.

“We are confident we have the capacity and resources to provide energy to any new customers who need our service,” he said.

“There have been conversations about the topic,” said Chris Gleason, spokeswoman for Tacoma Public Utilities.

“The interesting thing for us, and for other utilities, the ones who buy power from Bonneville, is whether Bonneville can supply to customers who are supplying to a service that is illegal in most parts of the country,” Gleason continued. “Bonneville is having the discussion about it.”

The answer resides in the other Washington.

Said U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, “I understand there are multiple conflicts between state and federal law as it pertains to marijuana. The only way to ensure that state law is recognized at the federal level is by passing the Respect for State Marijuana Laws Act. I am a co-sponsor of this legislation and will continue to advocate for the federal government to recognize and respect our state law.”

Jared Leopold, communications director for Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, responded late last week, “Senator Cantwell is looking at the potential impacts of implementing Washington’s marijuana law.”

State Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, has followed the marijuana issue in the state Legislature.

“The unintended consequences continue to rise,” he said last week. “My overall impression, once 502 passed, was ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to have quite a mess on our hands.’ ”

Nealey said he has asked a Bonneville government liaison specialist about the threat to deny power to the industry.

“She gave me a straight answer,” Nealey said. “We are aware of that problem and the legal department is working with that right now.”


“Part of the question we’re all asking – is this a big deal or not?” said Chuck Murray, senior energy policy specialist at the state Department of Commerce. “That’s because we have no idea how much energy is being used by illegal grows that are hidden from us.”

“My big concern is how much power is going to be required, but it’s very uncertain,” said Chris Robinson, power management manager at Tacoma Public Utilities.

“As a practical matter, we all know there are a lot of illegal grow operations. A lot of them are using Bonneville power already. Many of them are stealing power,” said Eric Christensen, an attorney at Gordon Thomas Honeywell and author of a recent blog post concerning cannabis cultivation and the law.

Some of that theft may go away once a legal network has been established.

Still, he noted the presence of “a number of potentially serious pitfalls for providers of services to marijuana growers, including utilities and irrigation districts.”

Evan Mills of Energy Associates estimated the industry consumes 20 terawatt hours per year nationally, including illegal grow operations.

For off-the-grid operations that consume power from private generators, Mills estimated that one marijuana plant requires 70 gallons of diesel fuel, or 140 gallons of gasoline used with smaller, less efficient generators.

Indoor cultivation in California, Mills wrote, accounts for 3 percent of all electricity use, or the electricity that could power 1 million average homes. Greenhouse gas emissions are equal to those from 1 million average cars.

Sources of energy use include an obvious list with lighting, heaters, humidifiers, de-humidifiers and such, but also include other, less obvious sources, including vehicles, CO2 generators, pumps, filters, fans, security stations and ozone generators.

“Current indoor cannabis production and distribution practices result in prodigious energy use, costs and unchecked greenhouse-gas pollution,” Mills wrote.

In its 2013 report “Environmental Risks and Opportunities in Cannabis Cultivation,” BOTEC, the firm hired by the state to assist in developing rules regarding the implementation of I-502, said “environmental considerations should not be a major component of marijuana policy, but are worth explicit attention and policy design.”

Meanwhile, federal agencies could flummox the whole thing by threatening banks or by denying water or electricity.

“It’s clear that the federal approach to the war on drugs is a complete failure,” said Christensen at Gordon Thomas Honeywell.

“The federal government,” he said, “should at least give us enough space to see if the Washington experiment will work.”

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2014/05/20/3651758/power-and-water-will-feds-allow.html?sp=/99/100/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy

Flathead Reservation in next phase of $1.9B land buy-back program


Elouise Cobell, right, looks on as Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes testifies in December 2009 during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. EVAN VUCCI/Associated Press

Elouise Cobell, right, looks on as Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes testifies in December 2009 during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C.
EVAN VUCCI/Associated Press

HELENA – The Flathead Reservation is among 21 Indian reservations that will be the focus of the next phase of a $1.9 billion program to buy fractionated land parcels owned by multiple individuals and turn them over to tribal governments, Interior Department officials said Thursday.

Besides the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, other Montana participants are the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation; Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation; Crow Tribe; and the Fort Belknap Indian Community of the Fort Belknap Reservation of Montana.

Government officials will work with tribal leaders to plan, map, conduct mineral evaluations, make appraisals and acquire land on the reservations from Washington state to Oklahoma in this phase, which is expected to last through 2015.

Other reservations could be added to the list, but the 21 named Thursday meet the criteria, particularly tribal readiness, said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn.

“We knew it wouldn’t be successful unless tribal leaders were interested in the program,” Washburn said.

The land buyback program is part of a $3.4 billion settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed by Elouise Cobell of Browning, who died in 2011. The lawsuit claimed Interior Department officials mismanaged trust money held by the government for hundreds of thousands of Indian landowners.

The 1887 Dawes Act split tribal lands into individual allotments that were inherited by multiple heirs with each passing generation, resulting in some parcels across the nation being owned by dozens, hundreds or even thousands of individual Indians.

Often, that land sits without being developed or leased because approval is required from all the owners.

The land buyback program aims to consolidate as many parcels as possible by spending $1.9 billion by a 2022 deadline to purchase land from willing owners, then turn over that purchased land to the tribes to do as they see fit.

So far, the program has spent $61.2 million and restored 175,000 acres, said Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor. To buy even that much land, officials had to locate and contact owners in all 50 states and several countries to find out if they were willing to sell, Connor said.

The work primarily has been focused on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation until now.

Last month, tribal leaders from four reservations criticized the buyback program’s slow pace and complained they were being shut out of decisions over what land to buy. The leaders from tribes in Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington state spoke before a U.S. House panel.

Rep. Steve Daines, R-Montana, who called for the congressional hearing, said he welcomed Thursday’s announcement by the Interior Department.

“However, I am concerned their efforts here may not provide tribes with the necessary tools to ensure the Land Buy-Back program is properly implemented,” Daines said in a statement.

He said the Interior Department should use its authority to give tribes more flexibility, and it should move swiftly to address consolidation problems on other reservations not included in the announcement.

Washburn said Thursday that his agency has entered into or is negotiating cooperative agreements with many tribes in the buyback program, though others say they want the federal government to run the program.

21 reservations next up in consolidation program

These are the American Indian reservations the Department of Interior plans to focus on in the next phase of a $1.9 billion buyback program of fractionated land parcels to turn over to tribal governments. The program is part of a $3.4 billion settlement over mismanaged money held in trust by the U.S. government for individual Indian landowners.

– Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana.

– Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of the Cheyenne River Reservation, Wyoming.

– Coeur D’Alene Tribe of the Coeur D’Alene Reservation, Idaho.

– Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, Montana.

– Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Oregon.

– Crow Tribe, Montana.

– Fort Belknap Indian Community of the Fort Belknap Reservation of Montana.

– Gila River Indian Community of the Gila River Indian Reservation, Arizona.

– Lummi Tribe of the Lummi Reservation, Washington.

– Makah Indian Tribe of the Makah Indian Reservation, Washington.

– Navajo Nation, Arizona.

– Northern Cheyenne Tribe of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Montana.

– Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota.

– Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Kansas.

– Quapaw Tribe of Indians, Oklahoma.

– Quinault Tribe of the Quinault Reservation, Washington.

– Rosebud Sioux Tribe of the Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota.

– Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, North Dakota and South Dakota.

– Squaxin Island Tribe of the Squaxin Island Reservation, Washington.

– Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota and South Dakota.

– Swinomish Indians of the Swinomish Reservation, Washington.

New Emergency Room Guidelines Help Washington Save Millions, Cut ER Visits

ER visits dropped 10 percent in teh last fiscal year, due in part to a set of best practices around emergency room care, says a new report.Credit UMHealthSystem / Flickr

ER visits dropped 10 percent in teh last fiscal year, due in part to a set of best practices around emergency room care, says a new report.
Credit UMHealthSystem / Flickr


By Gabriel Spitzer, KPLU


Washington’s Medicaid program saved more than $33 million last year, and a new report gives much of the credit to a big push to reduce emergency room visits.

ERs are a great place to treat real emergencies, but a very expensive place to do run-of-the-mill medical care. So the Health Care Authority, the agency that runs Medicaid, partnered with the Washington State Hospital Association, the Washington State Medical Association and others to adopt seven best practices aimed at ensuring ERs are used for their intended purpose.

They include things like keeping tabs on frequent ER users, referring people to primary care doctors and tightening up policies around prescribing narcotics.

The HCA’s chief medical officer Daniel Lessler says one crucial practice is sharing patient information among ERs, which can reduce costly duplications.

“A patient who is seen in an emergency room for a headache and got a head CT comes in with the same complaint to another emergency room three days later. Without that information, they probably are going to repeat the work-up,” Lessler said.

In fiscal year 2013, ER visits dropped by 10 percent. Visits by those frequent users dropped even more, as did the rate of visits resulting in a scheduled drug prescription.

The ER reforms probably aren’t the only reason for those changes and the cost savings. Lessler says other changes over the same period, like moving people to managed care, probably get some credit.

A large study in Oregon recently found that expanding Medicaid to more people increased ER use, rather than decreasing it as hoped. That finding is controversial, but Lessler notes that Washington’s ER reforms put it in a good position as the state adds hundreds of thousands to the Medicaid rolls as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

The HCA and its partners plan to detail the findings at a noon announcement Thursday.

Washington Among States Working To Negate Federal Food Stamp Cutbacks

In this photo taken Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010, a sign announcing the acceptance of electronic Benefit Transfer cards is seen at a farmers market in Roseville, Calif.Credit Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

In this photo taken Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010, a sign announcing the acceptance of electronic Benefit Transfer cards is seen at a farmers market in Roseville, Calif.
Credit Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

By Tom Banse, KPLU

Washington state policymakers are pondering whether to make an end run around looming cutbacks in the federally-funded food stamp program.

This would mimic what Oregon and three eastern states just decided to do.

In 15 states and the District of Columbia, low-income households get extra food stamps if they’re also getting help paying their heating bills. Washington, Oregon and California are among the states running things this way. Idaho does not offer the added benefit.

This winter, Congress tried to trim the ballooning costs of the food stamp program by setting a higher threshold for what’s come to be called “Heat and Eat.” The provision would decrease food stamp benefits for about 100,000 households in Oregon and twice that many in more populous Washington.

Now, Oregon’s governor has approved a restructure to low-income heating assistance to negate the federal policy change. And Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says his state is discussing the same.

“We’re going to look at anything we can do, but that’s not going to get done today,” he said.

The trim back of food stamp benefits doesn’t take effect until the fall here. A recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal gave voice to fiscal conservatives by rebranding the Heat and Eat benefit, “Cheat and Eat.”

Congressional negotiators booked $8.6 billion in savings from tightened eligibility for food stamp benefits over the next decade. Because of the state workarounds, those savings are now in doubt.

In Oregon, the avoided decrease to food stamp benefits averages around $58 per month per household. In Washington and California, the average cutback per household is a little bit higher.

Washington State Senators Propose Tax On Oil Train Shipments

Taylor Winkel, Northwest News Network

Powerful members of the Washington state Senate are on board with a plan to tax crude oil shipped into the state by rail.

The money raised would pay for oil spill response and clean up.

The proposed legislation would expand an existing barrel tax paid only by seaborne oil tankers.

Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen says extending the tax is fair.

“Every tanker coming into our refinery today pays a 5-cents-per-barrel tax that goes into oil spill prevention and response,” Ericksen says. “We believe we should apply that to rail cars coming in and we have a bi partisan bill that would apply the barrel tax to the rail cars also.”

Oil train traffic across the Northwest has rapidly increased since 2012. Trains are carrying crude oil from wells on the northern plains to refineries in Northwest Washington and a marine terminal in Clatskanie, Ore.

At least half a dozen more crude oil receiving terminals are on the drawing boards in Western Oregon and Washington.

State stuck with bill when people ditch boats


State law requires owners of abandoned or derelict vessels to pay to remove or dispose of them, but since the state began a program to rid state waters of potentially dangerous vessels in 2003, vessel owners have repaid only about $28,000 of the total $8.3 million owed.

By Phuong Le, Associated Press

State law requires owners of abandoned or derelict vessels to pay the full costs of removing or disposing of the problem boats, but owners rarely do.

Since the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) began a program to rid state waters of potentially dangerous vessels in 2003, vessel owners have repaid only about $28,000 — or less than 1 percent — of the total $8.3 million owed in the past decade, according to agency records.

“The state does get stuck with the bill,” said Melissa Ferris, program manager of DNR’s derelict-vessels program. “It is frustrating,” she added. “We try and track them down. We do a fair amount of work.”

A few boat owners are now on payment plans for roughly $161,000. The state agency is actively billing nearly $2 million in recovery costs from others. They’ve also sent nearly $3.4 million through the collections process.

In some cases, the boat has changed hands so many times that it’s hard to prove who owns it, she said.

But even when the state has identified an owner, seeking repayment is difficult. In many cases, the agency hasn’t been able to collect money — and likely won’t — because owners didn’t have any assets to go after.

“If we find an owner with assets, we will get judgments against the owners, but the vast majority (of them) don’t have resources,” Ferris said.

After a rusty 140-foot former fishing boat burned and then sank in Penn Cove off Whidbey Island two years ago, DNR had it removed and scrapped and later billed the boat’s owner, Rory Westmoreland, for nearly $1.3 million in costs.

To date, Westmoreland hasn’t reimbursed the state for any of those costs, Ferris said.

Island County prosecutors last year charged Westmoreland with a misdemeanor for abandoning a derelict vessel. He failed to show up for an October hearing and a warrant was issued for his arrest, a spokeswoman with the prosecutor’s office said Thursday.

A listed number for Westmoreland could not be found.

The owner of the 180-foot New Star still owes the agency about $500,000, after DNR seized it early last year to prevent it from becoming a problem. The vessel had been docked at Port Ludlow, but the owner, George Marincin, was unable to carry out an initial plan to scrap it in Mexico.

Messages left at possible numbers for the owner were not immediately returned.

Junk vessels can pose public-safety and environmental risks because they can break up, sink or potentially leak oil, gas or other materials.

Last month, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced criminal charges were filed against owners of two boats — 167-foot Helena Star and 57-foot historic tugboat Chickamauga — that sank in Puget Sound, spilling hundreds of gallons of oil and other pollutants.

Ferguson said the state wants to send a clear message that boat owners will be held accountable for environmental damage.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are trying to prevent derelict vessels from becoming a problem in the first place.

A bill introduced this year would create new penalties for failing to register a vessel and prohibit the sale of certain vessels that aren’t seaworthy unless they’re repaired or sold for scrap. House Bill 2457, which cleared a House committee last Tuesday, also imposes a fee on commercial vessels to fund the derelict vessels program.

“It speeds up the process of getting the boats out of our waters so they don’t sit around,” the prime sponsor, Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, told lawmakers at a hearing last month.

Some who spoke testified against parts of the bill they said would put too much responsibility on private moorage facilities. “If a vessel comes in and ties up at your dock, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it,” said Warren Aakervik of Ballard Oil.

The bill is meant to build on legislation passed last year to address junk boats.

Under the law set to take July 1, owners of larger vessels more than 40 years old would be required to get a boat pre-inspection before transferring ownership. They also have to report that information to DNR.

The agency is also working on a pilot program to take back junk boats that owners no longer want.

The state has removed more than 500 boats since the program began in 2003. But there are now about 150 on the state’s watch list.

Federal oil-spill money often covers the costs of raising the ship and getting rid of any oil or other potential pollutants. But the expense of removing the vessel and scrapping it typically falls to local governments and the state.