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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Candidates speak about Spokane’s lawsuit against agrochemical giant Monsanto

The Spokane Riverkeeper raft has been hauling garbage off the river regularly one short stretch at a time with the help of civic groups, churches and businesses. (Spokane Riverkeeper)
The Spokane Riverkeeper raft has been hauling garbage off the river regularly one short stretch at a time with the help of civic groups, churches and businesses. (Spokane Riverkeeper)

In August, the city of Spokane filed a lawsuit against the international agrochemical giant Monsanto, alleging that the company sold chemicals for decades that it knew were a danger to human and environmental health. The city, which is seeking an undisclosed amount of monetary damages from the company, also alleged that Monsanto is responsible for the high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the Spokane River.

Since it's election season, we asked candidates seeking public office in Spokane if they supported the suit. Here are their answers.

Ben Stuckart, incumbent candidate for Spokane City Council president: Yes, as far back as 1969 Monsanto knew that PCB’s were an environmental disaster.  Yet they continued to put them in common products.  Now we are paying millions to clean up our river, they should be held accountable.

John Ahern, candidate for council president: Did not provide answers.

Mike Fagan, incumbent candidate for council district 1: There is no doubt that there are multi-national corporations like Monsanto who, over the years have been major contributors to some of the environmental and health concerns that are in the forefront of people's minds today. The city saw an opportunity to join several other cities in this suit as a means to try and gain a way to help minimize the large expense that the city has placed upon the tax payer in our pursuit of a cleaner river faster. The city is also reaching out for state and federal grants where ever possible to again, mitigate some of the tax burden people are now having to shoulder due to this issue coming to a head.  

Randy Ramos, candidate for district 1: I believe that it is the responsibility of the city to protect the health and well being of its residents. It’s appropriate, then, for the city to hold Monsanto (the sole producer of toxic PCBs for decades), accountable for the financial burden placed on the city as a result of it’s harmful activities.

LaVerne Biel, candidate for district 2: Yes, I support the city’s Monsanto lawsuit.  We need to hold businesses accountable for the goods and services they provide that have long term environmental implications.   

Lori Kinnear, candidate for district 2: Lawsuits should always be a last resort when all other options are exhausted. In this case Monsanto is not stepping up to bear their share of the cost of river clean-up instead relying on the utility rate payer. They are responsible for a portion of the contamination in our river and should shoulder some of the responsibility to clean it.  

Karen Stratton, incumbent candidate for district 3: Yes.

Evan Verduin, candidate for district 3: According to experts, PCB’s in the river have been traced directly to Monsanto and as of today we are planning on spending nearly $300 million dollars to clean up our river. Those that pollute our river with little fear or regard for our health should be held accountable.


Unlike council candidates, who answered the question by email, mayoral candidates were interviewed in person. Here are their answers.

David Condon, incumbent candidate for Spokane mayor:

What finally made you give the green light to sue Monsanto over PCBs in the Spokane River?

I direct all legal actions for the city. What you see here is a continuation of the same philosophy that we’ve had with our cleaner river faster initiative, which is to look at the health of our river. Unfortunately, and I’m working very closely with our state and federal legislators, in all intents and purposes the current regulations do not look at the health of the river. It looks at, in essence, occurrences of overflows into the river. Not looking at the underlying health.

As we went to a health model, it quite quickly draws you to certain contaminants in the river. It became clear, and I believe and the courts will decide, that Monsanto that although operating within the purview of the law at the time, it is through discovery, we believe they knew that that existed.

The citizens of Spokane are stepping up to the plate. Half a billion dollars are going into this initiative. I think those that also contributed to it have a responsibility to do that. The Spokane River is at least a statewide asset. It flows ultimately into the Pacific Ocean. At the end of the day, it’s a major asset. It maybe doesn’t get the notoriety of a Mississippi River, but between the Columbia River system and the Spokane River system, it’s a regional asset.

To me it made sense. We’re working with other partners, whether it be the Toxics Task Force or other dischargers into the river. Those are seemingly more collaborative, and perhaps the Monsanto one will be more collaborative as we move into the discovery and mediation process.

Related question, do you like Neil Young?

I was surprised, but some of these things get more notoriety than others. But again it is a disciplined approach to looking at priorities in my administration, and not looking at it in the sense of political philosophy or otherwise. You let the chips fall where they may. This is one of those cases.

Shar Lichty, candidate for mayor:

Do you support the city's decision to sue Monsanto over PCBs in the Spokane River?

Yes, I do support that. Monsanto is one of the chief contributors to PCBs in the Spokane River, and they should pay for part of the cleanup cost. Absolutely. The timing of the lawsuit is interesting.

What do you mean?

It’s not so much interesting, but I question the motives. My motives would be, they should be held accountable for polluting our river.

Are you saying it was a political decision by the mayor?

Yes, political, and bringing in some revenue so he doesn’t have to pay it out of the city budget, which is smart. It’s not bad, it’s just interesting. It’s interesting that our current mayor would be suing Monsanto. That’s what I’m saying.

For his re-election? Is that what you mean?

Maybe. To appeal to progressives. I don’t see him as a typical person to do this. I don’t see him out there protesting GMOs.

Nicholas Deshais
Joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He is the urban issues reporter, covering transportation, housing, development and other issues affecting the city. He also writes the Getting There transportation column and The Dirt, a roundup of construction projects, new businesses and expansions. He previously covered Spokane City Hall.

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