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Amazon shareholder, former Spokane environmentalist urges Bezos to take an interest in Columbia River Treaty talks

UPDATED: Wed., May 30, 2018

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

John Osborn caught the 5:45 morning ferry to get to Fremont Studios in time for Amazon’s 9 a.m. annual meeting Wednesday in Seattle.

It was an early morning gamble. Osborn, a former Spokane environmentalist who now lives on Vashon Island, hoped to make a personal appeal to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Bezos’ company carries the name of one of the world’s great rivers. Osborn figured he might listen to a pitch from an Amazon shareholder about another great river, the Columbia.

To get into the meeting, Osborn passed through metal detectors. Police and protesters were gathered outside. Osborn carried a letter for Amazon’s board of directors.

The gamble paid off. At the end of Amazon’s business meeting, Osborn had about three minutes to address Bezos during a question-and-answer period.

Cheap power from the Columbia supports Amazon’s cloud services and last year’s $3 billion profit, Osborn told Bezos. But the power comes at a high cost to the region’s salmon, the tribes who depend on salmon for a subsistence food source, and the river itself, he said.

He urged Bezos and the board to take an interest in the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. Modernizing dam operations and increasing river flows in low-water years would make a big difference for wild salmon runs, Osborn said.

Osborn described Bezos as “unassuming,” and said he thanked Osborn for the information.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson also addressed Bezos during the question-and-answer period. The civil rights leader encouraged Amazon to work harder at diversifying its workforce and its board of directors.

Osborn, a physician, is no stranger to shareholder activism. For years, he introduced resolutions at Weyerhaeuser and Boise Cascade’s annual meetings, urging those companies to change their logging practices.

On Wednesday, Osborn expressed hope that his words would make a difference.

“Given that Amazon is a beneficiary of the Columbia,” he said, “it’s an opportunity for them to do the right thing.”

The Seattle Times contributed to this report.

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