Joe Pakootas Among Reasons to Be Optimistic on Northwest Growth

Joe Pakootas is Democratic Party vice chair in Washington; that’s just a sample of the bright future of politics and environmental arenas in the Northwest.

A majority of Americans voted to elect the nation’s first female president, only to find on election night they had failed.

President Trump signed an executive order clearing the way for a section of the Dakota Access Pipeline to be placed under Lake Oahe, even as U.S. pipelines have leaked more than 154,000 gallons of oil or fuel since he took office. And that’s not including oil and natural gas that leaked in Alaska in April; the quantity lost had not been determined at this writing.

Strange days, indeed. But there is reason for optimism. Women lead numerous Indigenous Nations. The number of women in Congress continues to grow; there are 104 women in the U.S, House of Representatives and 21 in the U.S. Senate, more than at any other time in U.S. history. Environmental warriors are still on the front lines in defense of Mother Earth.

Here are more reasons for optimism in Northwest Native America.


Pakootas elected vice chairman of state Democratic Party: Joe Pakootas, former Colville Tribes chairman and two-time congressional candidate, is vice chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party. Native American Caucus chairwoman Julie Johnson, Lummi, reports that Pakootas is the first Native American elected the state party’s vice chairman.

Pakootas is widely credited with the Colville Tribes’ $10 million economic turnaround and helping to lead efforts to clean the Columbia River of heavy metal pollutants from a Canadian mining operation. He ran twice for the U.S. House of Representatives against Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R- Spokane, in predominately Republican eastern Washington; he received 40.36 percent of the vote in 2016 and 39.32 percent in 2014.

Candidate training in May and June: Approximately 23 Native Americans serve in elected positions outside of tribal government in Washington state, as mayors, city council members, school board members, judges and state legislators. Ten are women. At least two more women – Sharlaine LaClair, Lummi, and Ronda Metcalf, Sauk-Suiattle – have indicated they plan to run again for state legislature after losing impressive bids in 2016.

So, Emerge America’s entry into Washington state is timely. The organization, a leading political leadership training organization for Democratic women, will conduct two Northwest Regional Candidate Boot Camps in Washington state for Democratic women running for office in 2017.

According to the organization’s announcement of the boot camps: “Top political strategists and trainers will teach attendees critical elements of campaigning, including developing a campaign plan, fundraising, messaging, press operations, public speaking, grassroots field operations and much more. Democratic women from Washington, Montana, Idaho and Utah running for office in 2017 are encouraged to apply.”

According to Emerge America, 150 of 214 Emerge alumnae on ballots in 2016 won — a 70 percent win rate.

The first boot camp took place May 12-14 in Spokane; another is schedule for June 9-11 in Seattle. You can apply here or here.

New generation of environmental protectors: More than 35 million gallons of crude oil and fuel have spilled into Alaska’s waterways and onto its lands since the 1970s.

Among those who will be on the front lines of protecting the environment that sustains them: 17 Alaska Natives who graduated on April 30 from the Rural Alaska Community Environmental Job Training Program.

The program is presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the State of Alaska, and Zender Environmental Health and Research Group. The program trains and helps place graduates in local environmental jobs and is targeted to unemployed and underemployed residents of remote Alaska Native Villages affected by environmental health issues.

The job training was made possible through a $192,300 EPA Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training grant awarded to Zender Environmental Health and Research Group.

According to the announcement: EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training grants – also known as Brownfields Job Training grants – pay for recruiting, entry-level training, career counseling and job placement for careers in environmental health, including contamination remediation, hazardous material handling, and more.

“EPA Brownfields job-training programs are an important resource for remote Alaska communities and others impacted by hazardous waste sites,” regional EPA environmental cleanup director Sheryl Bilbrey said in the announcement. “They provide unemployed and underemployed citizens with valuable technical skills that enable them to get good jobs in their communities. EPA is proud to partner with Zender Environmental Health and Research Group and the State of Alaska to provide a path to careers in site cleanup and construction and bring much-needed environmental improvements to remote Alaska communities.”

The four-week program includes training in Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response, refrigerant recovery, landfill operation, hazardous material backhaul, and water and soil sample collection.

Program graduates can earn 10 college credits through the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and up to 15 state or federal certifications.

Dr. Lynn Zender, executive director of Zender Environmental Health and Research Group, said of the graduates: “Without hesitation we’re able to recommend each student to Alaska’s contractors and rural employers as hardworking and dependable employees. And when we hear about a community that has suddenly started to turn its waste management situation around, it is often a past student that is behind it.”

Toward greater understanding: Representatives of the Quinault Nation learned about biophysics and clean energy. Representatives of Renewable Energy Group, or REG, learned about Quinault culture, history, and their connection to the land and water.

It was an enlightening, and important, meeting of minds on April 27 at REG’s biofuels facility in Grays Harbor, which is located within the historical territory of the Quinault Nation.

In January 2016, the Quinault Nation hailed REG’s decision to drop a proposal to store and ship crude oil out of its deep water terminal in Grays Harbor. The proposal had been submitted to the state by Imperium Terminal Services. REG, which specializes in renewable biofuels, purchased Imperium in September 2015 and dropped the proposal.

"Getting together and getting to know each other better is a great start to help Quinault learn more about REG’s plans moving forward,” Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp said in an announcement issued after the meeting.


“We believe Grays Harbor is poised and ready to seize tremendous opportunity for growth and economic revitalization. To achieve that collective goal, we must be unified in our efforts and advance together.”

REG owns and operates 12 biofuels refineries in the United States and three in Europe. The Grays Harbor refinery is REG’s largest and is capable of producing 100 million gallons a year, according to the company website.

At the time of the acquisition, REG vice president Gary Haer said the port and terminal location would enable the company to expand sales of its biofuel in Washington, Oregon, and western Canada, “as well as increase sales throughout California to meet [low-carbon fuel standard] demand.”

The Grays Harbor location enables REG to transport its biofuel by truckload, rail car and tanker.

The difference between petroleum fuels and bio-fuels: the latter are made largely from plants, plant-derived materials, and other organic materials. According to the National Biodiesel Board, “Independent tests have found that pure biodiesel is non-toxic, readily biodegradable and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics.” Shipping biodiesel is considered safer than shipping petroleum products because, the board reports, biodiesel will not harm marine life.

Still, REG’s proposal to produce, store and ship biofuels from Grays Harbor is undergoing environmental review. The state Supreme Court ruled that the Ocean Resources Management Act applies to REG’s proposal, meaning the state Department of Ecology has to apply stringent resource-protective criteria to the proposal – such as assuring there are no likely long-term significant adverse impacts from the project.