Spokane River wins long-overdue PCB-pollution cleanup plan

Federal Judge approves EPA plan to be completed by September 2024

News release

For immediate release


John Allison  jdallison@eahjlaw.com  (509) 951-3952

Marc Zemel marc.zemel@gmail.com  (206) 805-0857

Kathy Dixon kathleengdixon@gmail.com (509) 808-0118

Maggie Franquemont  MFranquemont@celp.org  (206) 829-8299

Ted Knight ted@tcklaw.com (509) 953-1908

Link:  Consent Decree

Spokane – The Spokane River and the hundreds of thousands who live near and along this treasured waterway have won a major victory with a federal judge’s approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) agreement to issue a mandated cleanup plan for cancer-causing PCBs polluting the river. The Judge’s ruling culminates a 10-year legal battle waged by Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. The Spokane Tribe of Indians intervened in support of the federal lawsuit to enforce the federal law requiring an EPA clean-up plan after decades of inaction by the State of Washington.

“We need to get cancer out of the Spokane River,” said Tom Soeldner who volunteers with the Spokane River Team of the Upper Columbia River Group, Sierra Club. “We waited 15 years for Washington’s state government to do its job under the law before filing the lawsuit. After more than a decade in court, this win for the Spokane River means the cleanup plan finally will get done. Now EPA will be responsible for the Spokane River’s PCB cleanup plan.”

PCBs are dangerous to life including human life because they cause cancer and other diseases.  Tiny amounts in water concentrate as they move up the food chain. For many years, Washington’s Department of Health has issued a health advisory on human consumption of PCB-contaminated fish in the Spokane River.

Under the settlement, called a “Consent Decree,” approved today by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein, EPA will complete a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for PCB’s within three years. A TMDL is a science-based approach to clean up polluted water in order to meet  State water-quality standards. A TMDL is a numerical value that represents the highest amount of a pollutant a surface water body can receive and still meet the standards.  For the Spokane River the TMDL will allocate the PCB pollution load to each of five identified PCB dischargers.

“EPA is the safety net when Washington State is unable to do its job cleaning up water pollution,” said John Allison, a Spokane River Team member. “We look forward to working with EPA in restoring and protecting the Spokane River for generations to come.”

PCB manufacture is banned in the U.S.  All PCBs entering the river are from old sources except for one:  Inland Empire Paper Co., which imports newsprint containing PCBs.  The other four government identified PCB dischargers are Kaiser Aluminum, and the Liberty Lake, Spokane County, and City of Spokane wastewater treatment plants. All five entities have discharge pipes that are permitted by the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE). Currently the State’s pollution permits contain no limits on PCBs flowing into the Spokane River.  The TMDL will change how PCBs are regulated in the Spokane River watershed.

“We need clean, flowing water for the return of salmon,” said Kathy Dixon of the Spokane River Team. “Salmon along with our children and the river’s life are compelling reasons to comply with federal law and move forward with a science-based, river-protecting cleanup plan.

“The Spokane River will need ongoing community vigilance with government processes,” continued Dixon. “River advocates will need to ensure that the EPA develops a legally defensible PCB TMDL to meet all applicable water quality standards, including those of the Spokane Tribe of Indians.”

“We are happy to see this court case closed and look forward to a cleaner healthier Spokane River,” said Trish Rolfe, Center for Environmental Law & Policy’s (CELP) Executive Director.

Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Marc Zemel of Smith & Lowney, a Seattle firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation. The Spokane Tribe of Indians is represented by Ted Knight.

Washington Water Watch: January Edition 2022

Happy New Year, Friends! CELP is entering 2022 focused on our mission to protect, preserve, and restore Washington’s waters. 

It has been a difficult couple years between the pandemic and increasing climate disasters. We hope you have been staying safe. The year started with extreme winter storms. Extensive rain and snow caused flooding, avalanches, and road closures. As the climate warms, storms increase in intensity.

We are ready to tackle water and climate issues. CELP’s priorities for 2022 are protecting and restoring adequate, healthy streamflows, honoring tribal rights and partnering with Tribes on water issues, adding and increasing water use efficiency standards and water conservation efforts, advocating for sustainable and equitable water policies and management, and increasing collaboration on water issues.

Our year is off to a busy start with a short legislative session. We are working hard in Olympia to stop bad water policies and pass bills that protect our water resources and salmon.

We have accomplished a lot to protect our waters with the help of our supporters. You can help protect our waters by signing up for lobby week, contacting your legislators, sharing CELP’s work and posts, and supporting our work by making a donation today.

In this issue you will find information on our 4th annual Clean & Abundant Water Lobby Week, additional CELP priority bills, a study linking low water flows and low salmon returns, an introduction of our newest CELP board member, a posting for CELP’s summer legal internship, an article on how climate change impacts snow patterns, and water and fish news.

Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

Read the full newsletter HERE

Urge your Representatives to Support Salmon Recovery

Salmon are in trouble! You can help!

We are working to make certain there will be salmon for the next seven generations“- Lorraine Loomis

Some Puget Sound salmon species have declined by 90% compared to historical populations. To avoid extinction, bold action is needed now.

The Governor’s Salmon Recovery package is a good starting point. The Lorraine Loomis Act (HB 1838), named after longtime salmon champion, Lorraine Loomis (Swinomish Tribe, and Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission) requires properly functioning riparian management zones around rivers and streams, including healthy vegetation to maintain cool waters essential to salmon habitat. It also increases the focus on salmon recovery in land use planning for the future, with important financial assistance, monitoring, and accountability to address the urgency of the salmon crisis.

The Lorraine Loomis Act is a top legislative priority for the Tribes and environmental organizations. CELP supports this bill and stands behind the Tribes. Requiring green corridors for riparian lands will protect salmon and clean and abundant water, protect indigenous and Tribal Treaty rights to fish, and ensure more healthy and resilient ecosystems that will better withstand the effects of our changing climate.

Salmon are a keystone species connecting everything. Their wellbeing is intertwined with our environment, economy, culture, and more. Our future must include salmon in Washington.

Salmon need your help! Your voice is critical to helping pass this bill. Legislators need to hear from you. Salmon are on the verge of extinction, so we must act now.

ACT NOW! Support this important legislation by emailing your House Representatives. Find your legislative district, email your Representatives, and urge them to support HB 1838!

Summer Legal Internship

We are now accepting applications for a Summer 2022 Legal Intern. This position is located in CELP’s Seattle Office.

We seek a legal intern with a demonstrated interest in environmental issues. There are a number of projects that the intern might work on including researching alternative water legal system, researching other water issues in Washington water management, drafting potential legislation, or drafting comments and responses to agency rulemaking. While we don’t anticipate any litigation at this time our intern will also be involved in that process should we be engaging in litigation by this summer.

Qualified candidates will have completed their 2L year and taken an environmental law course.  Coursework or clinical experience in administrative law is preferred. Exact internship dates are flexible depending on academic schedules, but generally run from June – August and last 10 weeks. Please email a CV, a writing sample, and references to Maggie Franquemont, Staff Attorney at MFranquemont@Celp.org

Deadline for applications is March 1st.

We are hopeful this position will be in-person. If necessary, due to COVID, we will arrange for the internship to be hybrid or remote. The intern should still be located in the Seattle area. In accordance with COVID-19 safety practices, CELP expects all employees and interns to be fully vaccinated. If you have any questions related to our COVID policy please reach out to Trish Rolfe, Executive Director – trolfe[at]celp.org.

Washington Water Watch: End of Year Edition

Dear Friends,

We are wishing you very happy holidays and hope you are doing well!

This year, as we all continued to be impacted by the COVID pandemic, CELP went through some big changes and accomplished exciting victories. We welcomed two new staff members, Maggie Franquemont as Staff Attorney, and Hillary Jasper Rose as Water Policy & Outreach Coordinator. We have adopted a hybrid working style as we build our team and the world continues to largely run over Zoom.

With the help of an incredible support system we achieved great things in 2021. CELP successfully encouraged the Department of Ecology to select the Nooksack River Basin (WRIA 1) as well as the Roosevelt Lake and middle tributaries (WRIA 58) as the next Washington basins to be adjudicated in coordination with the Nooksack Indian Tribe and Lummi Nation. We hosted our 3rd annual Clean & Abundant Water Lobby day as a virtual week long event helping pass bills for funding river basin adjudication, reducing plastic pollution, preventing seabed mining, and water re-use. CELP helped get a Watershed plan for WRIA 9 approved that would replace water used by new permit exempt well in the Green River watershed. We protected the Skagit River by submitting comments to Ecology in support of their denial of the proposed Golden Eagle water permit. We reached a settlement with the EPA on the Spokane River PCB levels. CELP also submitted comments to Ecology urging reform of Water Banking and the Trust Water Rights programs to curb water rights speculation.

We have accomplished a lot to protect our rivers. As we wrap up the year and look forward to our work in 2022, CELP has big goals. We plan to not only continue our work protecting waters in Washington but take a more proactive role in restoring our waters and fighting for more sustainable and equitable water policies and management.
You can help protect our waters by making an end of year gift to CELP. We are incredibly thankful to have met our $10,000 goal and match! Now our loyal supporter is increasing their donation to match donations dollar for dollar up to $15,000. Help us reach our new goal and be ready to tackle the legislative session and year ahead. You can also help further our mission by sharing our work with your friends and family.

You make our work protecting, preserving, and restoring waters in Washington possible! We are incredibly thankful for our supporters, members, partners, Board of Directors, volunteers, sponsors, staff, and community. Thank you for your dedication to protecting our water resources.

In this issue you will find an update on the Spokane River PCB case with a call to action, our comments on an Airway Heights water right application, information on the Salmon Recovery Plan, our thoughts on Puget Sound Partnership’s State of the Sound report, an article on water speculation, water and fish news, a recap on our Celebrate Water event, an announcement that we postponed our CLE workshop series with new dates TBA, and information on ways to support CELP.

Trish Rolfe

Executive Director

Read Full Newsletter Here

Celebrate Water Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined us in celebrating our waters and honoring Sharon Haensly and Kimberly Ordon. It was CELP’s pleasure to present Sharon and Kimberly with the Ralph W. Johnson Water Hero Award. We are incredibly thankful for their work protecting waters, natural resources, and tribal rights.

Sharon Haensly

Sharon has practiced law since 1988. She has a Bachelors of Science degree in Natural Resources from Cornell University (1981), and a law degree from the University of Oregon (1988). She has been a staff attorney with the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Legal Department since 2009. Before that, Sharon was a staff attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and worked at several Seattle law firms that represent Indian tribes.

Kimberly Ordon (KO)

Kimberly Ordon is a graduate of the University of Colorado (BA 1976; MA 1980) and of Lewis & Clark Law School (JD 1985).  Kimberly started her legal career representing tribes at the Native American Program of Oregon Legal Services in Portland, Oregon. In 1986 she received a Reginald Heber Smith (Reggie) Fellowship through Howard University to continue her work with tribes.  While working with the Klamath Tribe, Kimberly began her career-long advocacy for tribal fishing rights.  At the end of her Fellowship, she was invited by the Tulalip Tribes to continue the battle to protect salmon and their habitat. Kimberly happily served as an attorney for the Tulalip Tribes for over 30 years—the Best Job Ever—with great leadership and colleagues.

Sharon and Kimberly are incredible water protectors and their work embodies the vision of our founder Prof. Ralph W. Johnson and the connection between Water Law and Indian Law. Thank you Sharon and Kimberly for all you do to protect our waters!

Thank you to all who were able to join us in person at Ivar’s Salmon House for a lovely reception, delicious food, and great conversation. We enjoyed seeing everyone, even behind masks, and spending time with our community. Thank you!

Special shoutout to the Tulalip Tribes for being our presenting sponsor and to the Squaxin Island Tribe. A huge thank you to all our sponsors, attendees, and supporters. You make this event and our work possible! Together, we raised over $16,000 for CELP to continue our important work protecting waters in Washington and fighting for sustainable and equitable water policies and management. THANK YOU!

CELP’s CLE Workshop Series POSTPONED

December 3rd

Unfortunately, we have to postpone our CLE workshop series “Municipal Water Law: Where are we now” until next year. The series was originally being hosted virtually on Dec. 14th and Dec. 15th as a three 2-hour workshops covering Municipal Water Law Overview & Compromises, Municipalities and their Inchoate Rights, and Municipal Water Use Efficiency & Conservation.

New date TBA

Spokane River PCB Win & Call to Action

Spokane River wins long-overdue PCB pollution cleanup plan in EPA settlement

30-day public comment period opens:  please write in support

On December 1 in the Federal Register, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its settlement with Sierra Club, Center for Environmental Law and Policy, and plaintiff-intervenor, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, committing the agency to prepare a cleanup plan for cancer-causing PCBs that severely pollute the Spokane River.  For the River and life that depends on it, this settlement caps 25 years of advocacy, including 10 years of litigation filed by Sierra Club, the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, and intervenor Spokane Tribe of Indians. Our lawsuit sought to enforce the Clean Water Act mandate for an EPA cleanup plan, necessary because of decades of inaction by the State of Washington.

PCBs are a dangerous chemical that harms aquatic and human life, causing cancer and other diseases. Tiny amounts of the toxin concentrate as it moves up the food chain. The Washington Department of Health’s public health advisory, issued many years ago and still in effect, warns against consumption of PCB-contaminated fish in the Spokane River.

Under the settlement, called a “Consent Decree,” EPA will complete a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) by September 2024. A TMDL is a science-based pollution cleanup plan.  This one will be designed to ensure that the Spokane River meets protective water quality standards issued by Washington state and the Spokane Tribe.

PCB manufacture is banned in the U.S. Most PCBs entering the Spokane River pre-date the ban, with one major exception: Inland Empire Paper Co. (IEP) recycles paper printed with imported inks that contain PCBs. 

The TMDL will require significant reductions in PCB pollution discharged to the Spokane River by the five industrial and municipal treatment plants located in Washington. In addition to IEP, Kaiser Aluminum and the Liberty Lake, Spokane County, and City of Spokane wastewater treatment plants each discharge PCBs to the river. All five discharge pipes are permitted by the Washington Department of Ecology, but these permits contain no limits on PCBs flowing into the Spokane River. The TMDL will change that.

The PCB cleanup plan is especially significant because of heavy use of the Spokane River by the public for recreation and the consumption of fish.

The settlement includes a 30-day public comment period. We will then present the settlement to the federal court for approval. Sierra Club and CELP are represented by Marc Zemel and Richard Smith of Smith & Lowney PLLC, a Seattle law firm specializing in Clean Water Act litigation. The Spokane Tribe of Indians is represented by Ted Knight.

Take Action and help a distressed river!  Deadline is January 3, 2022.

Click here to write your comment:


Consider making the following points:

  1. Most importantly, thank EPA and express your support for preparation of the PCB cleanup plan.  Public uses require a clean river.
  2. Insist that the cleanup plan be based on sound science. 
  3. Ask EPA to use state-of-the-art testing technology to measure PCBs.
  4. As a matter of human health and environmental justice, ask EPA to ensure that the cleanup plan complies with applicable water quality standards.

Contact the Spokane River Team for further questions:

John Osborn john@waterplanet.ws

Kathy Dixon kathleengdixon@gmail.com

John Allison  jdallison@eahjlaw.com

Tom Soeldner  waltsoe@allmail.net

Rachael Osborn. rdpaschal@earthlink.net

8th Annual One River, Ethics Matter Conference

Restoring ntytyix (salmon) to the Okanagan and Upper Columbia Rivers.

Okanagan Nation Alliance and UBCO host Columbia River conference

Voices from both sides of the border discuss ethics of the Columbia River Treaty


  • What: One River, Ethics Matter (OREM) conferenceAgenda
  • Who: UBCO’s Jeannette Armstrong, ʔaʔsiwɬ Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, traditional knowledge keepers, environmental experts, academic and religious scholars
  • When: November 17 and 18, from 9:00 am to 12:30 both days
  • Venue: Virtually via Zoom
  • To Attend (free): Register
  • More on OREM: riverethics.org

As the world’s leaders convened at COP26 to discuss actions to address climate changes, plans were finalized in the Okanagan for the annual One River, Ethics Matter (OREM) conference. This 8th annual ethics consultation for the Columbia River, Nov 17-18, will follow the White House Tribal Nations Summit on Nov 15-16, and precede Pope Francis’ visit to Canada “on a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation” with Indigenous people. 

The 2021 One River Ethics Matter conference is hosted by the Okanagan Nation Alliance and UBC Okanagan. This will be the eighth annual event and it will focus on the Indigenous-led work of the Syilx nation with kł cp̓əlk̓ stim̓—restoring ntytyix (salmon)—to the Okanagan and Upper Columbia rivers.

The main objective of the two-day conference is to discuss the review process now underway to modernize the 57-year old Columbia River Treaty. Participants include traditional ecological knowledge keepers, environmental experts, along with academic and religious scholars from both sides of the 49th parallel.

Dr. Jeannette Armstrong, a Syilx knowledge keeper and UBCO associate professor who was recently appointed a Royal Society of Canada Scholar, will be one of several speakers at the event. Other leaders and panel experts include Grand Chief ʔaʔsiwɬ Stewart Phillip, who is president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis, University of Idaho Professor Emerita Barbara Cosens, along with Indigenous youth experts, historians, biologists, policy officials and Bishop Gregory Bittman of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pauline Terbasket, executive director of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, has been participating in the OREM conference since the first session in Spokane in 2014.

“These gatherings have been opportunities to feel the reality and impacts of colonization upon Indigenous Nations and the devastating impacts of the Columbia River Treaty. They also provide an opportunity to share stories that are familiar to all tribes along the Columbia River,” says Terbasket. “As the Indigenous people of the Columbia Basin, we are all salmon people, tied to the river for sustenance and to carry our responsibilities to care for all our lands, resources and peoples as we have since time immemorial.”

The OREM conference series is an ethics consultation process for improving the quality of ethical decision-making for the Columbia River.

Lesley Cormack, UBC Okanagan’s deputy vice-chancellor and vice-principal, will provide opening remarks at the event.

“For many generations, the Columbia River basin has supported a diverse ecosystem that breathes life into our natural environment across western Canada and the United States,” says Cormack. “We share an important responsibility to support Indigenous peoples as the caretakers and stewards of these lands and ensure that the Columbia River continues to sustain life for many generations to come.”

About OREM

Salmon have been blocked from reaching Canada’s Upper Columbia River after the Grand Coulee Dam was built in Washington State some 80 years ago. In 1964, Canada and the United States implemented the Columbia River Treaty to develop the hydroelectric potential of the Columbia River Basin and to manage flood risk.

Grounded in respectful dialogue the conference is a part of the Ethics and Treaty Project, which aims to increase public understanding of the Columbia River Treaty and provide an interdisciplinary forum to discuss shared stewardship of the river in the face of climate change. Alternating between the United States and Canada, the conference is jointly hosted by an Indigenous sovereign nation and an academic institution.

The 2021 OREM conference is free and open to the public. More information can be found at: riverethics.org

To Register

People can register for the event at: https://ubc.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_aKQEqnHxQ3y7L0TIMqb52A

CLE Workshop Series: Municipal Water Law

Save the Date

December 14th and 15th

Municipal Water Law: Where are we now?”

CELP will be hosting our annual winter Continuing Legal Education (CLE) workshop as a virtual series. We will host three 2-hour sessions covering municipal water law. The three sessions include, Municipal Water Law Overview & Compromises, Municipalities and their Inchoate Rights, and Municipal Water Use Efficiency & Conservation.

Speakers: TBA

Credits: 6 (2/workshop) CLE credits pending approval

When: Dec. 14th 2pm-4pm, Dec. 15th 9am-11am, Dec. 15th 2pm-4pm

Where: Virtually over Zoom


Single Workshop: $50

Single Workshop CELP membership: $45

Single Workshop Student/nonprofit: $25

All inclusive 3 workshops: $120

3 workshops CELP member: $108

3 workshops student/nonprofit: $60

Each Workshop Ticket Page has the option to buy an all-inclusive ticket for all 3 workshop sessions at a discounted price.

Tickets Workshop 1 Municipal Water Law Overview & Compromises

Tickets Workshop 2 Municipalities and their Inchoate Rights

Tickets Workshop 3 Municipal Water Use Efficiency & Conservation