The LNG plant resolution is back, but very different.

Remember that resolution Council member Kshama Sawant introduced opposing the liquid natural gas (LNG) plant that Puget Sound Energy is building in Tacoma? The one that Sawant’s colleagues referred to Council member Debora Juarez’s committee for more work, over Sawant’s (mild) objections? It has finally re-emerged, on the agenda for Juarez’s committee meeting on Wednesday. And it’s changed.

The original resolution was largely an environmental message lashing out against fracking. methane leaks from natural gas pipelines, the dangers of building an LNG storage facility so close to the Cascadian Subduction Zone, and Puget Sound Energy’s irresponsibility both in the 2016 Greenwood gas line explosion and in proposing an LNG facility in a major population area.

Up for consideration on Wednesday is a substitute draft, labeled “version 9.” When the resolution came up for discussion at the January 29th Full Council meeting, Juarez made clear that for her the main issue wasn’t the environmental risk (which she doesn’t deny), but that native tribes had not been consulted as required by treaty, and don’t have representation on the Puget Sound Clear Air Agency, the agency reviewing the LNG plant operating permit. Juarez also made it clear that while the original draft mentioned native tribes and their opposition to the plant, it was furthering the slight not to involve the tribes in writing the Council’s resolution.

Juarez’s latest draft addresses these issue up-front. The original resolution included two “whereas” clauses in reference to the tribal opposition, and urges Seattleites to “stand in solidarity with the Puyallup Tribe and the People of Tacoma in a united struggle against climate change and for a healthy and habitable world.” The new version addresses tribal issues in thirteen “whereas” clauses and calls on the PSCAA to¬† (among other things):

  • improve its tribal consultation procedures and engage in a government-to-government relationship with tribes on matters related to PSE’s application;
  • collaborate with regional mayors, leaders and tribes to address the growing impact of climate change;
  • provide timely information regarding the environmental impacts of any proposed facility affecting tribal land prior to any hearings on these facilities.

What it doesn’t state is explicit opposition to the LNG plant; that language was in the original resolution but has since been stricken. Instead, it now says:

The Seattle City Council is deeply concerned by the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in general, and is specifically troubled by the proposed siting of a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility by Puget Sound Energy (PSE) in Tacoma. The Seattle City Council requests the Office of Intergovernmental Relations to communicate this resolution to the Northwest Seaport Alliance including the Port of Tacoma, the Tacoma City Council, the Mayor of Tacoma, and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee.

There appear to be two sensitivities being addressed here: one, as Juarez has pointed out, is a desire to support and empower the tribes to have a seat at the table and exercise their treaty-based rights to be involved in decisions like this, rather than trying to fight the battle on their behalf. The other is to respond to the recent pushback on Seattle trying to muscle its way into a decision in Tacoma, outside the Seattle City Council’s jurisdiction. However, as environmental activists have pointed out, air and water don’t respect city borders; pollution and other environmental hazards in Tacoma affect Seattle as well, which is why the permit approval falls to the PSCAA, a multi-jurisdictional body that stretches across four counties (Pierce, King, Kitsap and Snohomish).

Nevertheless, environmental activists will not be happy about the softened language, so don’t be surprised if Sawant votes against the amendment. She has tried to cultivate a “big tent” approach, arguing that environmentalists are the tribes are on the same side, while remaining somewhat tone-deaf over Juarez’s insistence that the environmental activist community not undermine tribal leadership by grabbing the figurative microphone.

Sawant and the activist community like to accuse other Council members of “watering down” progressive legislation, often without merit. In this case, the original resolution really has been co-opted and rewritten to achieve a different but related goal, and the strongest language has indeed been watered down. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the committee hearing, how Sawant’s closest allies (O’Brien and Herbold) will vote, and whether Juarez and other Council members can successfully find a balance that makes both tribes and environmentalists happy.