As Seattle City Light proceeds through the FERC relicensing of its Skagit River Hydroelectric Project, it faces two recent lawsuits filed by the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe and one by Skagit County. Two of the suits are related to the Project’s alleged impacts on fish passage, and another alleges that Seattle City Light is misleading the public, or “greenwashing” with respect to its clean energy claims.
The Tribe filed the first case in June 2021 in the Superior Court of the State of Washington for Skagit County, seeking a declaratory judgment that the “presence and operation” of Seattle City Light’s Gorge Dam on the Skagit River violates both the Washington State Constitution and the United States Constitution by prohibiting salmon and steelhead to migrate upstream of the Gorge Dam to spawn. The Tribe maintains that Seattle City Light’s Gorge Dam violates both Constitutions because it violates statutes that prohibited such dams in the territory of Washington and that were not repealed when Washington gained statehood. On July 29, the case was removed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, where Seattle City Light argued that the Tribe’s complaint should be dismissed, and that FERC, through its relicensing process, is the proper venue to consider the Tribe’s allegations in the complaint that the Gorge Dam blocks fish passage.
On August 23, Skagit County filed an open public records lawsuit against Seattle City Light in Whatcom County Superior Court, alleging that Seattle City Light has not responded to the County’s financial records request. The County claims that it seeks Seattle City Light’s financial records to determine whether the utility has adequately invested in salmon and steelhead protection and recovery in the Skagit River watershed. On September 13, counsel for the City filed a request to transfer the case to King County Superior Court.
Finally, on September 17, the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe filed a second case in King County Superior Court, in which it accused Seattle City Light of violating the Washington State Consumer Protection Act by “greenwashing” its reputation “with claims of superlative environmental responsibility,” including that Seattle City Light is “the nation’s greenest utility” because a majority of its electricity comes from non-carbon emitting hydropower. The Tribe’s complaint asks the City to stop these advertisements, which it claims are deceiving to the public because of the Skagit River Project’s impacts to salmon and steelhead fisheries in the Project area.