Columbia River agreement, medals of Merit & Valor, clean tech, Spokane wildfire relief

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Biden signs historic Columbia River Basin Agreement

Gov. Jay Inslee watches a Tribal chairman sign an agreement, and shows a picture of the Columbia River on his phone.

Gov. Jay Inslee watches Nez Perce Tribe chairman Shannon Wheeler sign an agreement between Tribes, the states of Oregon and Washington, and the federal government to protect salmon on Friday. "The Columbia River is the artery of our region, and it needs to be brought to health," said Inslee, showing a photo of the river taken Thursday.

Pacific Northwest salmon are fighting for survival. Their numbers are shrinking, and state, federal and Tribal conservation efforts, while significant, have only managed to slow the decline. Those efforts must be accelerated and must be performed in harmony.

On Friday, President Joe Biden signed a historic partnership agreement first announced in December to restore wild salmon populations, expand clean energy production, and reinforce the economic benefits of the Columbia River system. The agreement comes with a $1 billion federal investment directly supporting salmon restoration and one to three gigawatts of new, Tribally-sponsored clean power generation.

“The Columbia Basin is facing complex and related problems. Salmon are dying, our fisherman have empty nets, and our families have empty tables. We need more clean energy, but we need to develop it in a way that it is socially just,” said Yakama Nation chairman Gerald Lewis “We can and will save our salmon, and working together, we can and will ensure that our communities will have the energy and resources they need for generations to come.”

In late 2022, Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray commissioned a joint report yielding several key conclusions: Salmon populations are on track for extinction, the dams must one day be breached to save them and protect the federally-guaranteed right of Tribes to fish, and that the enormous economic benefits of the dams must be replaced before the rivers run free.

“The question of whether to breach the Lower Snake River Dams is deeply personal to the many communities and Tribes engaged in this debate,” said Inslee at the time. “The stakes are high, and the debate often devolves into a binary choice to breach now to save the salmon or not breach and maintain the status quo. Neither of those options are responsible or feasible.”

The president’s signature on Thursday moved the process forward in a significant, responsible, and feasible fashion. Only through partnership can the dams’ benefits be replaced, new clean power be generated, salmon populations be restored, and the regional economy continue to grow.

Two heroes recognized with state’s top honor

The families of Donnie Chin and Dr. Abe Bergman receive medals.

The families of the late Donnie Chin and Dr. Abe Bergman were present to accept their respective Washington state Medal of Valor and Medal of Merit awards – the highest honors the state can bestow.

Donnie Chin and Dr. Abraham Bergman were recognized Wednesday with the highest honors the state can bestow: the Medal of Valor and the Medal of Merit.

“This is very rare company. It includes Nobel Prize winners like Linda Buck. It includes philanthropists like Belding Scribner. It includes visionaries like Dale Chihuly,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “And today, it includes Dr. Abraham Bergman and Donnie Chin.”

The Washington State Medal of Valor is bestowed to a nominated person who has saved or attempted to save the life of another at serious risk to themselves. And the Medal of Merit may be bestowed to a person distinguished by a lifetime of meritorious conduct.

Chin and Bergman fit the bill. Chin, recipient of the Medal of Valor, became a guardian of Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. When ambulances were slow to arrive, he picked up a police scanner to respond to calls himself and perform lifesaving CPR. He delivered prescriptions to seniors. He broke up fights and patched broken windows. He started the International District Emergency Center to expand his efforts and give local kids a safe place to hang out. Chin was murdered in 2015, but his legacy and the International District Emergency Center he founded continue to make an impact today.

Dr. Abe Bergman was an extraordinary pediatrician whose influence spread far beyond Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He helped pass legislation to require that children’s pajamas be made with nonflammable materials and to require that pill bottles be sealed with childproof caps. He researched Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), helping destigmatize families reeling from the sudden loss of an infant. He also formed the National Health Service Corps in 1972, which to this day helps cover expenses for aspiring medical professionals who in turn work in underserved communities. Bergman died last November.

This year’s honorees are the first since 2015, when awards were bestowed to communities affected by the 2014 Oso landslide and to Billy Frank. Jr, a guardian of Tribal treaty rights.

Read more: CID advocate, longtime Seattle doctor awarded highest civilian honors in Washington  (KING5)

Washington’s clean energy economy grows, one ribbon-cutting at a time

Gov. Jay Inslee and First Mode employees cut the ribbon to open their new Seattle factory.

Gov. Jay Inslee and First Mode employees cut the ribbon to open their new Seattle factory.

The governor is getting pretty good with scissors.

In Seattle, Gov. Jay Inslee and the staff of First Mode cut the ribbon to open their new SoDo manufacturing facility. Ultra-class mining trucks are big and thirsty: they stand three stories tall and burn 1 million gallons of diesel fuel a year. First Mode manufactures hybrid-electric powertrain kits that reduce the emissions of converted vehicles by up to 25%. They also produce a hydrogen fuel cell kit that eliminates carbon emissions entirely.

There are 13,000 ultra-class haul trucks operating worldwide spewing about 35 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. First Mode expects to produce 150 conversion kits a year from their Seattle factory at first, sparing the atmosphere the equivalent annual emissions of 90,000 passenger cars. Over time, they expect their output and climate impact to double.

The governor and legislators smile for a picture wearing reflective safety gear in a large warehouse under construction.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, and Group14 CEO Rick Luebbe show off the giant new Group14 battery material factory under construction in Moses Lake.

And on Thursday in Moses Lake, Inslee was joined by U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Sen. Maria Cantwell to tour the newly-built factories of two giant battery manufacturers. Sila’s facility will manufacture EV batteries, and Group14’s facility will be the world’s largest factory for advanced silicon battery materials.

With the batteries are coming jobs: Sila’s 600,000-square-foot facility will require hundreds of workers to operate. Nearly all of them will be locals. Nearby Big Bend Community College is helping prepare its students for these new careers, partnering with Sila to offer training programs with a job waiting for them on the other side. Group14’s factory is even bigger: 200 workers will staff its 1-million-square-foot building. Both factories are expected to begin operating within a year.

“This is more than just a step forward; it's a leap into a cleaner, brighter future in Washington state,” posted Inslee.

Legislative session – week 8 in review

This week was budget rollout week; on Monday, the House and Senate Democratic caucuses announced their proposed capital, operating and transportation budgets. The new budgets involve no new taxes, leave healthy fiscal reserves, and invest heavily in two important and challenging areas: education and behavioral health.

“Our focus remains on ensuring success for every child in the state,” said Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett. “That’s why this supplemental budget includes over $242 million for K-12 schools, including funding for student meals, special education, and better compensation for paraeducators.”

That pay boost for paraeducators was a key item in Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget proposal to begin the session, and enhanced special education funding continues a trend of Inslee’s tenure. Last year’s $2.9 billion boost for schools was the single largest K-12 investment since the 2012 McCleary Decision. Public schools serve every student who walks in the doors, and paraeducators and special education programs are vital supports for children with developmental disabilities, family traumas, or other challenges. As some states have begun to divert public funding towards exclusionary private schools, Washington welcomes and supports every student. As inflationary costs and enrollment plateaus are hitting schools hard, the additional investments are much needed.

The House and Senate budgets also shared a prioritization for behavioral health. Soaring demand for behavioral health services has stretched the system’s capacity. To meet the need, the state last year purchased and opened a new behavioral health hospital and supported the construction of a new teaching hospital to grow the workforce. Those extra beds and extra workers will help a lot of people, and both the Senate and House budgets continue to invest in those assets as well as outpatient, community-based supports, including substance use disorder treatment capacity.

The House and Senate transportation budgets are affected by a $56 million revenue shortfall due to reduced ferry ridership and diminished registration and title revenues. But those traditional revenues have help this year: the Climate Commitment Act. More than $1 billion in CCA revenues will fund vital transportation projects related to port electrification, public transit, walkability, and more. Over $260 million in CCA funding within the House and Senate budgets will also apply directly to new ferry construction. The Senate transportation budget shows a slightly more conservative outlook, and more heavily invests in roadway maintenance and ferry staffing.

Inslee signed the first bill of the session on Wednesday: EHB 1964. The bill closes a fuel tax loophole and establishes a team to investigate violations.

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Biden approves disaster assistance for Spokane County

Last August, wildfires torched Spokane County. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and two people died. Last week, President Joe Biden signed off on federal assistance to help the county recover. Those affected by the fires may register online at or call 1-800-621-3362.

“Today’s announcement from the Biden administration is welcome news for the communities of Medical Lake and Elk that are still recovering from last year’s devastating wildfires,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “Getting assistance from FEMA is no small feat, and it’s greatly appreciated. Even with this help, recovery will still be a long process. I would like to thank Sens. Murray and Cantwell for their work in support of our state’s assistance application as well.”

Scholarship available for career and technical education students

The application for the Washington Award for Vocational Excellence Scholarship is now open. The award pays up to $3.850 per year to graduating high school seniors or community and technical college students who have finished or will finish a year of career or technical education coursework. As many as 147 students statewide will receive the award this year: two high school students and one community or technical college student from each of the state’s 49 legislative districts.