Tribal Leaders Blast Washington Governor’s Cap-and-Trade ‘Betrayal’

By: - May 24, 2021 12:00 am

Fawn Sharp, vice president of the Quinault Indian Nation and president of the National Congress of American Indians, speaks during a rally for a ballot measure in 2018. Sharp has accused Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, of betraying tribal nations with his veto of a section of the large climate package that lawmakers passed last month. Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press

A coalition of tribal leaders and lawmakers who helped push Washington state’s massive climate package to the finish line lashed out at Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee for vetoing a section of the bill last week.

Inslee struck down a measure that would have mandated better consultation with tribal nations on climate projects.

“This week, Jay Inslee committed the most egregious and shameless betrayal of a deal I have ever witnessed from a politician of any party, at any level,” Fawn Sharp, vice president of the Quinault Indian Nation and president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in a statement. “After using and exploiting Tribal Nation’s political capital to pass his climate bill, Jay Inslee made the cowardly decision on the day of the bill’s signing to ambush Tribal leaders.

“The only thing I will ever agree with Donald Trump about is that Jay Inslee is a snake.”

Less than a month before, Sharp had called the measure “the most important law in the history” of the state.

Much of the debate around the new climate program, known as cap-and-trade, centered on issues of environmental justice, and tribal nations were instrumental in lobbying for its passage. Some other local groups representing communities of color remained skeptical that the program would address climate change or local air pollution.

Now, some of Inslee’s strongest allies in the environmental justice debate have become his sharpest critics.

Robert de los Angeles, chair of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, called Inslee’s veto “offensive beyond description” and a “permanent stain on his record” in the statement published by the Snoqualmie Tribe. He said the move could endanger sacred sites and burial grounds.

Two Democrats who helped pass the measure joined tribal leaders in expressing their frustration.

“I definitely would not have voted for the Climate Commitment Act without the consultation language that the Tribes negotiated and the impassioned advocacy of [tribal leaders]” said state Rep. Mike Chapman in the statement. “[Inslee’s] actions do not reflect Washington’s values.”

State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege added that Inslee “broke trust with Washington’s Tribes in a way that complicates and damages dialogue with tribes statewide.”

In his veto statement, Inslee said the tribal consultation measure “differs from our current government-to-government approach, and does not properly recognize the mutual, sovereign relationship between tribal governments and the state.”

Inslee’s spokesperson told the Seattle Times that the section was written too broadly, and would have allowed challenges to almost any related project in the state. The governor’s veto statement also expressed a desire to negotiate with tribal leaders on a new consultation measure, an offer that was not received warmly.

“I will not participate in any process that validates Inslee’s delusional belief that he has authority over sovereign tribes or speaks for the Washington State Legislature or Washington State voters,” Sharp said in the statement.

The bitter fight over Inslee’s veto comes as backers of the bill were beginning to celebrate a long-awaited win on climate policy. The cap-and-trade bill puts economy-wide limits on carbon emissions, with polluters required to purchase credits that can be used or traded. The package also includes a new program to monitor and regulate air pollution in marginalized communities, which supporters said was a crucial step to address environmental racism.

Inslee touted the law as “arguably the strongest environmental justice policy in the nation,” and supporters said the package provided a model for addressing both climate change and inequality.

But the stinging rebuke from tribal leaders, who had been among the bill’s most ardent advocates, makes it difficult for Inslee to sell the bill as a win for communities of color.

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Alex Brown
Alex Brown

Based in Seattle, Alex Brown covers environmental issues for Stateline. Prior to joining Stateline, Brown wrote for The Chronicle in Lewis County, Washington state.