Spokane City Council votes to denounce Mayor Nadine Woodward

The Spokane City Council has formally denounced Mayor Nadine Woodward’s appearance at an August event with former state legislator Matt Shea and traveling Christian nationalist pastor Sean Feucht.

The resolution, passed on a vote of 4-3 Monday, says in part: “Spokane City Council formally denounces Mayor Nadine Woodward for her actions that associated her with an alleged domestic terrorist, former Representative Matt Shea, who has participated in the planning of taking arms up against the United States of America, and denounces her preplanned attendance that associates her with known anti-LGBTQ extremist, Sean Feucht, and hateful rhetoric.”

A group of people gathered on a stage and pray.
Matt Shea and Sean Feucht lay hands in prayer on Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward on Aug. 20, 2023 at the Podium. (Courtesy of Joseph Peterson)

Both Shea and Feucht lead movements that couch their right-wing political views in evangelical Christianity

When Shea was in the state House of Representatives, his own caucus, the Washington Republican Caucus, expelled him in 2020 after an investigation accused him of helping to plan the 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, as well as participating in two other armed conflicts against the U.S. government and recruiting militia members. Shea opted not to run for reelection that year and now runs a Christian-based organization that encourages evangelicals to get involved in politics.

Feucht, a musician and megachurch leader from California, tours the U.S. with his Christian revival events, including Let Us Worship, which started as a state-by-state protest against COVID-19 restrictions, and continues today. After accusations of being a Christian nationalist – a person who calls for laws and government to be based on evangelical Christian beliefs – Feucht has embraced the term.

Woodward joined Shea onstage at Feucht’s Aug. 20 Let Us Worship event in Spokane, where Shea led a prayer over her and others running for office this year, according to news organization Range Media. After the event, Woodward denied knowing that Shea would be there and denounced his politics.

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Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries handed a Yakima orchard $290,000 in fines after two workers died in tractor rollovers this summer, the safety agency announced today

The agency issued Borton & Sons five willful serious citations for the two deaths, citing them for failing to ensure a rollover protection system was being used and that workers wore seatbelts. Willful violations are given when L&I believes employers knew or should have known the safety standards, but failed to make sure they were being followed. 

Farmworker Gilberto Padilla died on May 7 as he was driving a tractor between orchards, according to the inspection summary. The vehicle rolled after he drove over front counterweights that had fallen off. About a month later, on June 8, Oscar Rodriguez-Olivera died in a tractor rollover after he made a sharp turn traveling down a hill, according to L&I.

In both deaths, the protection system to prevent workers from being crushed in a rollover was not in use, according to L&I. Nor were the workers wearing seatbelts. L&I officials stated they had directed Borton & Sons to ensure the proper use of rollover protections and seatbelts after the first death. The agency also cited the company for allegedly altering the scene of the second fatality before an L&I inspection began.

“Using a rollover protection bar and seat belt is such a simple way to save workers’ lives. These incidents should not happen,” Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s safety and health division, said in the press release. “Orchard owners have the responsibility to make sure workers use safety systems. If Borton & Sons had been vigilant, these workers might be alive today.”

Borton & Sons has a history of safety citations and penalties violations, according to data collected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The fruit grower is contesting the 2023 fines. 

L&I issued more than $14.7 million in fines last year to companies for violating health and safety laws. A recent Crosscut investigation found the agency later reduces many initial penalties, and sometimes struggles to head off repeat safety violations even after a worker has died.

Kate Dean
Kate Dean, a Jefferson County Commissioner, is one of the Democratic candidates running to replace U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-WA 6, who announced he will not run for reelection in 2024. 

A third Democrat has announced a bid for the seat of outgoing U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, who is not seeking reelection after more than a decade in Congress.

Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean announced her bid Tuesday. Dean has been on the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners since 2017 and also serves on the Washington State Board of Health and the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council. Dean joins Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and State Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, as confirming their candidacies in the race for Washington’s 6th Congressional District.

Kilmer’s decision to not run for reelection prompted Franz, state Commissioner of Public Lands since 2017, to drop her 2024 bid for governor to run to replace Kilmer in Congress. Randall, the State Senate Deputy Majority Leader, announced she also would run for the seat about two weeks after Kilmer’s announcement.

Republican State Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, also announced last month that he was exploring a run for Kilmer’s seat.

Washington’s 6th Congressional District covers the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas and stretches into parts of Tacoma. Kilmer, a Democrat, was first elected to represent the district in 2012. The next elections for the U.S. House of Representatives will be in 2024, and the newly elected representative will start a two-year term in January 2025.

At long last, Hanford poised to clean up nuclear waste with glass

A building at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

The B Reactor at the Hanford site on Oct. 12, 2022. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)

The Hanford nuclear reservation is on track to start encasing huge volumes of its worst radioactive wastes in glass within 18 months, marking progress on a cleanup project that is 16 years behind its original schedule.

Hanford, a decommissioned production site of nuclear bomb materials, filled its first canister with melted non-radioactive glass last week, a process called “vitrification,” the site’s leaders announced Monday. 

“It was not obvious to everyone except this [vitrification plant] team that we’d be here today,” said the federal Department of Energy’s Hanford Manager Brian Vance at a Monday ceremony at the site’s low-activity-waste vitrification plant. 

Hanford is expected to begin melting radioactive wastes together with glass flakes between April and June 2025 at a rate of 21 metric tons a day, Vance said. Hanford’s first melter poured its first glass in late October while the first 7.5-foot-tall, 4-foot-in-diameter stainless-steel canister was filled last week. It held slightly less than 1,800 gallons of cooled, greenish glass weighing 6.8 metric tons.

Hanford, which ended production in 1987, has 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in 177 leak-prone underground tanks. The tanks hold more than 100 types of deadly chemicals and highly radioactive wastes left over from its manufacturing of plutonium for atomic bombs during World War II and the Cold War. These tanks are arguably the most radiologically and chemically contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere. 

Hanford plans to start testing its second low-activity-waste melter in a few weeks. The two melters are expected to have lifespans of about five years.

Next year, DOE and contractor Bechtel National plan to test the melters while running them 24/7. The tests will include simulated wastes. The Washington Department of Ecology, one of the site’s regulators, is especially interested in tests of the gases emitted into the atmosphere from the melting process, said Suzanne Dahl, tank waste treatment section manager for the ecology department.

“We will continue tirelessly to complete the entire mission,” said Bechtel’s senior vice president and glassification project director Brian Hartman. (“Glassification” is another term for converting something into glass.)

“This milestone demonstrates the progress we can make when the federal government meets its legal and moral obligations,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., in a recorded video presentation to the small crowd Monday.

The glassification project has faced multiple delays and setbacks since it was announced more than two decades ago. Over the past 25 years, the DOE and its contractors have continuously underestimated the project’s complexity, playing fast and loose with short-term goals at the expense of long-term ramifications.

The project’s early history includes the DOE getting rid of two site managers who warned that the glassification plant would be more complicated and more expensive than anticipated. In 2010, another subcontractor manager was exiled due to his warnings that major technical problems threatened potential leaks and explosions, which threatened Bechtel getting a bonus from the feds. In 2015, Bechtel said the project would be delayed because of the problems that it hushed up in 2010

Originally, the legal deadline to start glassification was 14 years ago, in 2009, and to finish glassifying in 2019. The project’s budget has grown from $4 billion to $17 billion, and could expand to more than $30 billion. Right now, Hanford’s legal target is removing all the waste from the single-shell tanks, planning to close those tanks by 2043 and the double-shell tanks by 2052.

The DOE has moved those targets back to 2069, a date not reflected in its current cleanup agreements with the state of Washington, according to a 2021 report by the Government Accountability Office. Those deadlines are expected to be pushed further back in a tentative agreement that will be publicly unveiled after the DOE and the Washington Department of Ecology finish reviewing changes in the draft.

The single low-activity-waste plant will handle only 40% to 50% of the low-activity wastes, which make up the bulk of the materials in the tanks. The rest of the low-activity wastes will have to be handled by a second plant, or by a different disposal method.

A high-level waste melting plant is on the drawing board, along with a pretreatment plant for that material. Currently, the DOE’s deadline to have its high-level waste melters online is 2033. However, that is expected to change when the tentative agreement is finalized.

A man stands next to a large canister.
U.S. Department of Energy Hanford Manager Brian Vance stands next to the first Hanford canister filled with glass that was melted, then cooled. The DOE plans to store nuclear waste at Hanford in similar canisters. (John Stang for Crosscut)


WA state employee files claim over order to falsify fuel forecast

A motorist fills a vehicle’s tank at a Shell station

A motorist fills a vehicle’s tank at a Shell station Wednesday, July 5, 2023, in Englewood, Colo. Republican lawmakers say the new cap-and-trade system is leading to higher gas prices. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

A recently retired state economist has filed a complaint against the Washington State Department of Transportation, alleging he was ordered not to include Washington’s cap-and-invest costs in an early 2023 revenue forecast.

In his complaint filed Thursday, Scott Smith, 64, said he left WSDOT after more than five years as a gasoline tax revenue and gasoline price forecaster for this reason. He is seeking $750,000 in lost income because he felt pressured to leave the agency before he was ready to retire.

A complaint must be filed 60 days prior to the filing of a lawsuit seeking damages from the state. Smith is represented by Citizen Action Defense Fund, a conservative organization that opposes Washington’s new cap-and-invest carbon pricing program.

The same organization filed a lawsuit against the state in Thurston County Superior Court last January, alleging the Legislature’s 2022 transportation bill, which included the nuts and bolts of the cap-and-invest program, violated the Washington Constitution by covering more than one subject. CADF lost in Superior Court and is appealing the ruling to the Washington Supreme Court.

Smith’s complaint filed this week alleges that when he prepared his gas revenue and price forecasts at the beginning of 2023 for WSDOT’s revenue forecast council, he calculated that Washington’s cap-and-invest program — which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2023 — would have a significant impact on gas prices and gas tax revenue. He says he was told to remove those calculations from his forecast by WSDOT officials and the Washington Office of Financial Management.

“He was approached by a supervisor and told not to include what the impacts of cap-and-trade will be. … They were asking him to lie, and he wouldn’t do that,” said Jackson Maynard, Citizen Action Defense Fund’s executive director, in an interview.

Maynard and the complaint said Smith was told he would need OFM approval on future calculations, he was denied a promotion, and was denied leave to see a sick family member, which he alleges was retaliation. 

The state’s cap-and-invest programs became controversial in June when Washington posted the highest gas prices in the nation. Republicans have seized this as a major political issue, with Democrats defending the program.

A Crosscut analysis showed economists calculating that the cap-and-invest program has increased gasoline prices from 26 to 50 cents per gallon, depending on who is doing the number-crunching. The same analysis showed numerous factors beyond the cap-and-invest program are contributing to Washington’s high gas prices.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office first became aware of Smith’s situation on Thursday, said governor’s spokesman Mike Faulk. The governor’s office receives its gasoline price and revenue information from the state Ecology Department and not from WSDOT, Faulk said.

Ecology Department spokesman Andrew Wineke said in an email that the Legislature directed Ecology to develop and implement the cap-and-invest program – not the Department of Transportation. "Ecology used its own economists to conduct the regulatory analysis for the cap-and-invest program, with support from a respected independent economics firm. No one from the Department of Transportation provided input on that analysis,” Wineke said.

OFM spokesman Hayden Mackley added that the transportation revenue forecasts are important in developing the state's budget. "It’s important that this complex work is completed by professional forecasters. We rely on staff in other agencies who have this expertise to fill this role,” Mackley said.

Kris Abrudan, spokeswoman for WSDOT, said: “Transportation revenue forecasts are complex and highly variable. … Data integrity, transparency, and consistency are integral to this process and any changes to that model to include incorporating (the cap-and-invest program)  would be a much broader determination than any one employee or agency.”

Meanwhile on Friday evening, Faulk sent out an email that said:

  • The appropriate OFM official does not recall discussing this matter with Smith, and does not recall declaring that Smith’s work needed to be reviewed by OFM.
  • The Legislature eliminated Smith’s position last session, with his functions transferred to the state’s Economic Revenue Forecast Council. Therefore, his position was not eliminated by WSDOT.
  • WSDOT was considering Smith’s request to be able to work remotely, but he did not finish the process for that decision-making.
  • Smith’s request for time with his mother around Thanksgiving conflicted with a presentation that he was scheduled to give.

Updated Dec. 3, 2023: This story has been updated to include comment from the Washington State Department of Transportation, and information emailed Friday evening by governor's spokesperson Mike Faulk. 

U.S. government invests $11M in Washington conservation efforts

salmon swimming

Chum salmon swim upstream to spawn in the waters of Pipers Creek in Carkeek Park on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. (Grant Hindsley for Crosscut)

The U.S. Interior Department announced this week $11 million in grants for conservation projects in Washington state.

The federal grants are part of the “America the Beautiful Challenge” to restore land and water across the nation. The 74 grants announced Tuesday total $140 million and will pay for conservation projects in 46 states, three U.S. territories and 21 tribal nations.

In Washington the grants will fund: 

– Salmon habitat restoration projects run by the Yakama Nation and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation: $2.99 million and $2.5 million.

– A multistate effort led by the Nez Perce Tribe to plan for California condor habitat management and restoration: $1.99 million.

– A collaborative effort involving 31 tribal nations to mitigate ecological damage from recreation on Washington public lands: $1 million.

– Cross-border salmon restoration efforts by the Coeur d’Alene Nation: $614,300. 

– An effort by Conservation Northwest to improve native vegetation for tribal harvest and improve salmon habitat in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest: $810,000. 

– Reduce flood risk in the Olympic National Forest: $870,700.

The Biden Administration launched the America the Beautiful Challenge in 2021, with the goal of conserving 30 percent of U.S. lands and water by 2030.

Seattle-area Jewish groups hit by vandalism, suspicious packages

grafitti on a wall says "you know better."

Members of Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation discovered vandalism all over the synagogue on Nov. 22, 2023. Other Jewish groups in the Seattle area have also reported receiving suspicious packages this week. (Handout photo.)

A synagogue on Mercer Island was discovered vandalized Wednesday morning – at least the third incident in a week targeting Jewish organizations in this city. 

The FBI is investigating because of an increase of “targeted incidents” nationally, according to a Mercer Island Police Department spokesperson. The FBI has reported a rise in hate crimes and threats against Jews and Muslims since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Seattle-area Jewish and Muslim groups told Crosscut that they feared the war would lead to an increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

Members of the Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation on Wednesday morning found graffiti on the exterior of the synagogue, including the words, “Shame on Israel,” “You know better” and “Stop Killing.” 

The vandalism followed a few days after two Jewish organizations on Mercer Island received suspicious packages in the mail. The Mercer Island Police Department did not identify the organizations in its press release. The Seattle Times also reported that at least five other Jewish organizations in Seattle have received suspicious packages in recent days.

The recent targeting of Jewish organizations – and the lack of loud condemnation – disheartens Rabbi Will Berkovitz, CEO of Jewish Family Service of Seattle.

“People say, ‘We’re just critiquing the Israeli government.’ Well, if you are vandalizing a place of worship, a Jewish space, that’s not a critique of the Israeli government, that’s hatred of Jews,” he said.

Berkovitz said while he and other Jews have stood in solidarity with groups outside their community, they haven’t seen the same open support in recent days.

“At our time of need, we are not being supported,” Berkovitz said. “We are standing – we feel like – alone.” 

The Wednesday morning vandalism comes as Israel and Hamas tentatively agreed the night before to a temporary four-day ceasefire to facilitate the release of women and child hostages taken by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The agreement includes Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners, according to The Associated Press and CNN. The details of the agreement are still being worked out, according to the New York Times.

Petitions delivered to drop WA’s carbon pricing system

Let’s Go Washington Founder Brian Heywood

Let’s Go Washington founder Brian Heywood talks about ballot initiatives, including Initiative 2117, during a press conference at Jackson’s Shell Station in Kent on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. (Jason Redmond for Crosscut)

Opponents of Washington’s fledgling carbon pricing system on Tuesday turned in 418,399 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office on a petition to repeal the program.

The petition needs at least 324,516 valid signatures by Dec. 29 to go to the Legislature. If the Legislature takes no action, it will appear on the November 2024 ballot as a referendum.

“We’re going to give the voters a chance to vote it down,” said Brian Heywood, leader of the effort, at a press conference in Kent in front of a trailer filled with signature pages. Heywood, a hedge fund manager, is providing more than 80% of the petition drive’s budget, according to Let’s Go Washington’s Web site. 

Since January, Washington’s cap-and-invest program has held pollution allowance auctions aimed at reducing Washington emissions. Opponents blame the cap-and-invest program for Washington’s high gasoline prices, saying oil companies are passing on their auction costs at the pump. 

A recent Crosscut analysis showed that numerous factors beyond the cap-and-invest system are affecting Washington’s gasoline prices.

The petition “will be dead on arrival,“ said Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center and chairman of the Senate’s Energy & Environment Committee, last week. The initiative would have to go through his committee.

Heywood said public ballot measures for a cap-and-trade program were defeated before the Legislature passed the cap-and invest program in 2021. “The Legislature said ‘F U’ to the voters and it is saying ‘F U’ again,” Heywood said in response to hostility from the Democrat-controlled Legislature toward the petition.

Nguyen said the petitioners are unaware of the cap-and-invest program’s benefits and that the 2021 law is the result of compromises reached among environmentalists, advocates of disadvantaged communities and the business community, including some of the oil industry. He also contended the petition’s backers are climate-change deniers.

“Of course, climate change exists. Of course, humans cause climate change. I’m just not a member of the mother-breathing Church of Gaia,” Heywood said. He later added: “This money is going to the political friends and allies of the governor. To be honest, this is a money grab.” 

In an email, Gov. Jay Inslee’s spokesman Mike Faulk said: “As for the false claim about how auction revenue is spent, if he can’t back it up then it’s not even worth printing. We’ve been more than happy to share with folks where the funds are going.”

The cap-and-invest program is on track to raise almost $2 billion in 2023. So far, $300 million has been appropriated to 188 projects.  

WA could collect $770M more than expected in taxes over 4 years

A picture of the Washington state Capitol in Olympia.

The Washington State Capitol and Supreme Court buildings in Olympia, photographed from Heritage Park on Oct. 21, 2020. (Jovelle Tamayo/Crosscut)

Washington is projected to collect $770 million more in taxes over the next four years than previously expected, according to a new state revenue forecast.

Tax collections are now expected to bring in an additional $191 million for the current two-year budget cycle, according to the state Economic Revenue Forecast Council. Another $579 million in higher-than-expected collections are projected for the 2025-27 budget cycle.

While some tax collections came in lower than expected – including the real estate excise tax – the projected increases are due in part to sustained consumer spending and employment, according to the Council forecast.

“Revenue collections remain steady, but we have seen personal income forecasts improving later in the forecast period as well as stronger total employment and construction employment forecasts,” Steve Lerch, executive director of the nonpartisan Council, said in a statement. “These changes have resulted in slight modifications for the November forecast.”

In the 60-day legislative session that begins in January, state lawmakers will write supplemental budgets that tweak the main two-year budgets they passed last year. Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to unveil his proposed supplemental budgets next month.

Washington collects $890M in first year of new capital gains tax

A picture of the state Capitol building in Olympia.

The Washington State Capitol building on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, in Olympia, Wash. (Jovelle Tamayo for Crosscut)

Washington’s new capital gains tax has brought in nearly $900 million in its first year, according to the state Department of Revenue.

The DOR estimates $889 million was collected out of a total of 3,765 returns, according to an agency spokesperson. That number could fluctuate a little before lawmakers return in January for the annual legislative session, according to spokesperson Mikhail Carpenter.

Legislators in the coming session will write supplemental budgets that make adjustments to the state’s two-year spending blueprints.

The first $500 million of the tax is directed toward a state fund that pays for K-12 education and child-care programs. The additional dollars are then expected to go into a state account that pays for school construction.

In March, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the law, which puts a 7% tax on profits from the sale of stocks and bonds exceeding $250,000. Exempt from the tax are sales of real estate, retirement accounts and livestock and timber for ranching or farming. There’s also a special deduction for sales of family-owned businesses. Foes of the tax in August asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in.

Report raises concerns about tracing water quality, salmon safety

Chum salmon swim upstream

Chum salmon swim upstream to spawn in the waters of Pipers Creek in Carkeek Park in a 2021 photo. (Grant Hindsley for Crosscut)

The U.S. and Washington environmental agencies are not adequately tracking how high water temperatures and oxygen-depleting substances are harming Puget Sound’s salmon, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.

Three salmon species — Puget Sound Chinook, Hood Canal summer-run chum, and Puget Sound steelhead — are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in 2022 that all three species are at moderate risk of extinction.

Salmon require cool, clean and well-oxygenated water to survive. Warmer-than-optimal temperatures can stress and kill salmon while delaying their migration. 

“The Lummi Nation reported that elevated water temperatures in the Nooksack River in 2021 contributed to the spread of pathogens that killed an estimated 2,500 Chinook salmon before the salmon could spawn,” the report said.

Nutrients from nitrogen from sewage treatment plants and general water runoff have depleted oxygen in Puget Sound. “Low levels of dissolved oxygen can alter embryo incubation periods, decrease the size of fry, increase the likelihood of predation, decrease feeding activity, and negatively affect swimming performance during migration,” the report said.

The GAO faulted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology for not keeping up with their biennial reports on water quality related to salmon. Only two such reports have been submitted since 2012. 

These reports are supposed to track where the state’s water quality standards are met, where water quality standards are borderline, where there is insufficient data to track the standards, and where water quality standards are not met. Roughly half of the 10,000 records examined by the GAO found insufficient data to judge the water quality at specific locations.

In its response to the GAO report, the EPA agreed with the GAO’s conclusions, and said it was working with the state Ecology Department to improve the timeliness of the water quality reports.

The Ecology Department said the GAO did not consider the scale and complexity of collecting and analyzing data from thousands of locations across Washington.