The Puyallup Tribe received some good news on Wednesday when Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced he no longer supports the construction of a liquified natural gas plant (LNG plant) on the Puyallup River Tideflats in Tacoma. The plant, which the tribe has opposed since 2015, would produce up to a half million gallons of highly volatile liquefied natural gas per day and would store up to 8 million gallons of it in a huge tank located at the facility.
Gov. Inslee, a Democrat who announced in March he is running for president on a climate change platform, previously supported the construction of the plant. But he changed his mind and announced his reversal on the same day he signed a bill banning the use of hydraulic fracking in Washington state.
“Being committed now to 100 percent clean electricity and signing a bill prohibiting fracking in Washington state, we want to be consistent to that spirit of progress. Therefore I cannot in good conscience continue to support the construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in Tacoma…” he told reporters.
The announcement came as a surprise to members of the Puyallup Tribe, who has expressed that the plant would damage water quality, harm salmon runs, and pose a safety risk for those living in the area.
What the announcement means to the tribe
The governor’s withdrawal of support for the plant does not prevent its owner, Puget Sound Energy, from completing construction. It does, however, lend added weight to the Puyallup Tribe’s fight against it.
In an interview with Indian Country Today, Puyallup Tribal Council Member Annette Bryan explained how many questions about the plant were not addressed by the City of Tacoma’s original environmental impact statement.
“The state delegated the authority to do the environmental impact statement to the City of Tacoma,” said Bryan. “I think with all of the questions that have come up and the city’s unwillingness to look into answering any of those questions, I’m hopeful that the state will take a take a look at that and either take over the environmental impact statement or agree to take a look at the one the city did and then help them determine if they need a supplemental environmental impact statement or not. Because they’re unwilling to look at whether or not we need one.”
Bryan went on to explain how the tribe’s relationship with Tacoma has not always been a positive one. Although last year Tacoma honored the tribe by hanging the Puyallup Nation Flag in their city council chamber, the city has not addressed many of the tribe’s concerns regarding the LNG plant.
“When our flag was placed in the city council chambers and the city agreed to have a government to government meeting with the city council and the Puyallup Tribal Council, we were making headway repairing a relationship that has been damaged for decades. If the city continues to disregard our concerns, then that relationship will continue to be damaged,” she said.
No permits? No problem.
Perhaps the tribe’s main point of contention is Puget Sound Energy's continuing construction of the plant, though all the proper permits have not been granted.
When asked about the potential legality, Bryan replied, “It seems illegal to us, too! And now the State Attorney General’s written a letter. The Tacoma Human Rights Commission has written a letter. We have 40 tribal chairmen and women signing on to this to support us, a couple of dozen state leaders and environmental groups… And we’re really just wondering what’s going on here.”
Bryan also described the many direct action events put on over the past several years by the tribe, “water warriors,” and several environmentalist groups. In addition to marching many times against the plant, tribal allies have chained themselves to construction equipment, blocked the gates to the construction site, sat atop tipi-like structures at the state capitol, and even blocked the entrance to the headquarters of Puget Sound Energy.
“We’ve had people arrested. They’ve gone to jail, They’ve gone to court and the charges have been dropped. There’s so much of an outcry about this facility. And we feel like nobody’s listening. So we’re hoping that the state, now that the governor’s come out against the facility, that the governor will urge the state to take over the environmental impact statement process that is completely disregarding the public and surrounding jurisdictions and the tribe.”
Putting it in perspective
Puyallup Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud praised Gov. Inslee for taking a stand on a very divisive issue. The governor received a lot of criticism for withdrawing his support for the LNG project and Sterud believes it’s not just an empty campaign gesture.
“He took a stand and followed through with it,” the Chairman said. “I have to kind of pat him on the back.”
Finally, Sterud praised the tribal members and their allies who took it to the streets.
“The Puyallup people have been known to aggressively protect our treaty rights and this is one of those instances. This is still a way out for anyone to declare a victory, but our people have demonstrated. Our people have carried signs. Our people have been very vocal down on the building site, on the roads. Depending on what happens, that option’s never off the table," he said.
“So that’s kind of where it’s at. You know we’ve got some, we call them the ‘water warriors,’ who are a strong, determined group of tribal members, not only tribal members but also activists from the City of Tacoma, Pierce County, that all want to see this monstrosity stopped."
“With that in mind, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Frank Hopper is a Tlingit, Kagwaantaan, freelance writer, born in Juneau, Alaska, and raised in Seattle. He now resides in Washington, D.C.