Expo '74: 50 years of Environmental Justice in the Inland Northwest

Expo '74 50th celebration
In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Expo '74, the Gonzaga Climate Institute—in collaboration with the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Washington, the Washington State Attorney General, and the Gonzaga Law School Center for Law, Ethics, and Commerce—hosted a one day conference at Gonzaga looking retrospectively at the environmental justice work done over this half century and what work remains to be done in the coming decades.



  • Gonzaga Institute for Climate, Water, and the Environment
  • United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Washington
  • Washington State Attorney General's Office
  • Gonzaga Law School's Center for Law, Ethics, and Commerce 


Part 1

Welcome remarks

  • Jacob Rooksby, JD, PhD, Dean, Gonzaga Law School
  • Brian G. Henning, PhD, Director, Gonzaga Climate Institute
  • Vanessa Waldref – United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington

Part 2

Spokane River Panel – Moderated by Vanessa Waldref

  • Brook Beeler, Eastern Region Director, Washington Department of Ecology
  • Marlene Feist, Public Works Director, City of Spokane
  • Margo Hill, MURP, J.D., Eastern Washington University
  • Jerry White, Waterkeeper and Executive Director Emeritus, Spokane Riverkeeper

Part 3

  • Cliff Villa, JD, Deputy Assistant Administrator, US Environmental Protection Agency 

Part 4

Enforcement Panel 

  • Twa-le Abrahamson, Executive Director, Indigenous Rights and Reparation Foundation
  • Bill Sherman, JD, Assistant Attorney General, Washington State Attorney General's Office
  • Colleen Melody, JD, Civil Rights Division Chief, Washington State Attorney General's Office
  • Katy Scott, JD, Water Protector, Spokane Riverkeeper

Concluding Session: The Future of Environmental Justice in the Inland Northwest – Moderated by Dr. Brian G. Henning

  • Vanessa Waldref, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington
  • Cliff Villa, Deputy Assistant Administrator, US Environmental Protection Agency
  • Greg Gordon, Professor and Department Chair of Environmental Studies & Scienes, Gonzaga University 


Brian G. Henning, PhD

Dr. Henning is Professor of Philosophy and of Environmental Studies at Gonzaga University and is the inaugural director and founder of the Gonzaga Institute for Climate, Water, and the Environment.


Dean Jacob Rooksby

Jacob Rooksby, JD, PhD


Jacob Rooksby has served as Dean of Gonzaga University School of Law since 2018, focusing his attention on enhancing the school's enrollment and diversity, solidifying its financial footing, rebuilding its physical footprint, revamping its curriculum, and expanding its reach in the community and region. He is the author of a book on intellectual property law and policy issues in higher education and is an expert on IP law, higher education law, and technology transfer. In addition to being a member of the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States, he holds an active law license in Washington state, where is affiliated with an IP law boutique, FIG. 1 Patents, PLLC. Rooksby is an elected member of the American Law Institute and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, two of the profession's highest honors. He holds a J.D., M.Ed., and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, and an A.B., summa cum laude, from the College of William & Mary, where he majored in Hispanic Studies and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He lives in Spokane with his wife, three girls under the age of 12, and dog and cat. A lover of the outdoors and the trails and lakes of the Pacific Northwest, Rooksby has summited the highest point of elevation in 44 of the lower 48 states.


Vanessa Waldref Headshot

Vanessa Waldref


Vanessa R. Waldref became the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington on October 7, 2021. U.S. Attorney Waldref was nominated by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on July 26, 2021, and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on September 30, 2021. Ms. Waldref is responsible for overseeing the prosecution of any federal criminal case brought within the 20 counties of Eastern Washington. The Office also represents the United States in all civil matters brought within this territory.

Ms. Waldref is from Spokane with deep roots in Eastern Washington. Ms. Waldref served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington from 2013 to 2020, handling a wide variety of civil and criminal cases. Most recently, U.S. Attorney Waldref served as a Trial Attorney with the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the United States Department of Justice where she litigated cases in federal courts around the country arising under a range of environmental protection statutes. Since 2015, Ms. Waldref has taught courses in Environmental Law, Labor & Employment Law, and Conflict of Laws at Gonzaga University School of Law.

After graduating from Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, WA, U.S. Attorney Waldref received her B.A., magna cum laude, from Georgetown University in 2002, and her J.D., magna cum laude, from Georgetown University in 2008.


Brooke Beeler Headshot

Brook Beeler


Brook has served as Ecology’s Eastern Region Director since 2019 and has been with the agency since 2005. She began her career at Ecology working with communities encouraging environmental stewardship through education and outreach. Prior to her appointment as Regional Director, Brook supported the agency with strategic communications and media relations on complex regulatory topics. As a child, Brook spent lot of time exploring wetlands, creeks, and cow pastures south of Spokane, which sparked her interest in science and nature. She studied Biology at Whitworth University.


Brooke Beeler Headshot

Marlene Feist


Marlene Feist is the Public Works Division Director for the City of Spokane. Marlene directs the City’s major utility operations, including water, wastewater, and solid waste, along with streets, engineering, fleet and capital programs. She leads a staff of about 760 employees and manages operating and capital construction budgets totaling more than $300 million a year. Marlene has worked for the City of Spokane for more than 25 years. Until taking the position of Public Works Director, she was the Director of Strategic Development for the Division. She moved to Public Works in 2013 after serving as the City’s Communications Director. She recently completed two terms as a Board Member for YWCA Spokane and co-chaired the YWCA’s successful 2017 and 2018 Women of Achievement Luncheons. She currently serves on the board for the Spokane Regional Transportation Management Center (SRTMC) and the Northeast Public Development Authority (NEPDA). She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from the University of Montana, and she is a 2006 graduate of Leadership Spokane.

Margo Hill


Margo Hill, JD, MURP, is a Spokane Tribal member and grew up on the Spokane Indian reservation. She serves as the Associate Director of Small, Urban, Rural, and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM). Dr. Hill served as the Spokane Tribal Attorney for 10 years and as a Coeur d’Alene Tribal Court Judge. Ms. Hill earned her Juris Doctorate from Gonzaga School of Law and her Master of Urban and Regional Planning from Eastern Washington University. Her Bachelor’s degree is in Political Science from University of Washington. Margo Hill is an Urban Planning professor at Eastern Washington University where she teaches American Indian Health and Community, Environmental Planning, Administrative Law, Planning Law and Legislation, Community Development, Tribal Planning classes and Federal Indian Law. In 2023 Margo Hill received the EWU Trustee' Medal Award which is EWU's highest form of recognition for teaching excellence, significant contributions to scholarship and research, and accomplishments of the development of academic programs and curriculums.


Brooke Beeler Headshot

Jerry White Jr.


Jerry was born in Corvallis, Oregon near the Willamette River. His family moved to Cheney where he grew up exploring the lakes, rivers and forests of the area. From a young age he was raised by wolves, trout, and herons along the Spokane River where they taught him to fish and hunt. He traveled each spring to fish for native Chinook salmon with his grandfather on the Willamette. Jerry has a long history of working to protect rivers in the Inland Northwest. As a former staff member of Save our Wild Salmon, Jerry advocated for the restoration and protection of native Snake River salmon and steelhead. He has worked for native trout as conservation chair and continues to volunteer for the Spokane Falls Chapter of Trout Unlimited as an Advisory Board Member. He loves to spend time on the Spokane River fly fishing for trout, rowing his drift boat, shooting one of his longbows or backcountry skiing on the very snow that feeds our River. Jerry has two kids and currently lives with his wife within earshot of the Spokane River.


Cliff Villa Headshot

Cliff Villa


Cliff Villa serves as Deputy Assistant Administrator for the U.S. EPA Office of Land and Emergency Management, where he provides policy direction for programs including Superfund cleanup, Brownfields funding, hazardous waste management, underground storage tanks, Federal facilities, and emergency response. At EPA, Villa supports Biden Administration priorities centered on environmental justice and climate change, drawing upon expanded resources provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Currently on leave from the tenured faculty at the University of New Mexico School of Law, Villa has also taught at Columbia Law School and Seattle University. Before teaching full-time at UNM, Villa spent more than 20 years as an EPA attorney in Washington, D.C.; Denver, Colorado; and Seattle, Washington. Among other publications, Villa is the lead author of ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE: LAW, POLICY & REGULATION (3rd ed. 2020), and author of legal scholarship on environmental justice including Remaking Environmental Justice (2020); and Don’t Blame the Flint River (2022). Villa was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with local roots tracing back to the Atrisco Land Grant of 1692.


Twa-le Abrahamson Headshot

Twa-le Abrahamson


Twa-le Abrahamson is enrolled Spokane and a descendant of the Colville, Coeur d’Alene and Navajo Nations. Twa-le is a graduate from the University of Washington with a degree in environmental studies and a minor in restoration ecology. She has been a social, health and environmental justice organizer for over 20 years. She worked for several years in Natural Resource management for the Spokane Tribe, and was recognized by the USEPA for outstanding community education and outreach along with Jeff Ferguson, Rachel Crow-Spreading Wings and Yvonne Abrahamson for their production of “InnerTribal Beat,” a Native American news and music show focused on environmental news in the northwest region. Twa-le worked for the Washington State Human Rights Commission as a Civil Rights Investigator, serves on the Washington State Office of Equity Community Advisory Board and the Indigenous Environmental Network Board of Directors. Twa-le is currently the Executive Director of the Indigenous Rights and Reparation Foundation.


Bill Sherman headshot

Bill Sherman


Bill Sherman is chief of the Environmental Protection Division of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. The Environmental Protection Division brings litigation under state and federal laws that protect Washingtonians and our environment, including civil lawsuits and environmental criminal prosecutions under state law. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Michigan Law Review. He has served as Special Assistant to U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in King County, and as a Visiting Professor at Seattle University School of Law.


Brooke Beeler Headshot

Colleen Melody


Colleen Melody serves as Chief of the Civil Rights Division in the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. The Civil Rights Division enforces federal and state laws protecting the rights of vulnerable populations in Washington, with an emphasis on civil rights and anti-discrimination work. Colleen leads a team of attorneys, investigators, and staff on enforcement matters statewide. Prior to joining the Attorney General’s Office, Colleen served as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, DC. There, she brought enforcement actions to remedy discrimination on the bases of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, and disability. Following law school, she served as a law clerk to Judge Ronald M. Gould of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


Minnie Alexander, JD

Greg Gordon


Greg Gordon was born at the junction of Cherry Creek and the South Fork of the Platte River and spent much of his adult life living along the Clark Fork and Dearborn rivers. He now lives a short walk from the confluence of Hangman Creek and the Spokane River and is a professor of Environmental Studies at Gonzaga University.


Bill Sherman headshot

Katelyn (Katy) Scott


Katelyn (Katy) Scott was born and raised in the Spokane area, and is highly passionate about clean water and environmental justice. Katy attended Wellpinit High School on the Spokane Indian Reservation, then went on to earn a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of Washington. She then earned her J.D., with a certificate in Public Interest Law from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. During law school, Katy spent her summers working as a whitewater rafting guide and kayak guide, while also working in a personal injury firm. Prior to joining Spokane Riverkeeper, Katy worked in Plaintiff's personal injury law. Now as Water Protector at Spokane Riverkeeper, Katy manages our Clean Water Defense and River Flow Protections (Water Conservation) programs.