Alumni Spotlight: Karlee Deatherage

Karlee Deatherage ('13) is passionate about protecting the environment and planning for a more sustainable world. She majored in planning and environmental policy with an emphasis on urban planning at The College of the Environment. Complementing her interest, she volunteered on local political campaigns and causes, sharpening and honing her eye for policy. 

In 2012, her junior year at Western, Karlee worked with Jean Melious, professor and current dean of Environmental Studies in The College of the Environment as an intern on a special project on water rights and the Nooksack River. Her work on this project became the basis for what is now known as the 2016 Hirst Decision, a Washington Supreme Court case brought by Eric Hirst and environmental nonprofit Futurewise. The decision is now Washington State Department of Ecology policy and regulates building permits for developments drawing from wells to protect in-stream flows in the Nooksack River as well as most parts of the state.  

After graduation, Karlee’s policy and community work led to a staff position with U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene. Karlee served as Rep. DelBene’s community liaison in Skagit and Whatcom counties building relationships with constituents, local elected officials, businesses, and community organizations. After a few years, Karlee wanted to hone her environmental policy chops and joined RE Sources for Sustainable Communities crafting legislation and working on environmental policy. She worked on the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan, salmon recovery, water supply, Lake Whatcom and many other critical local environmental issues.  

And then Karlee made a move that might seem surprising to some—she accepted a position at Puget Sound Energy in community engagement. PSE supplies power and natural gas to the entire Puget Sound region, with 1.1 million electricity customers and 750,000 natural gas customers in their service area. With an extensive background in environmental policy, a strong sense of community, and a passion for good urban development, the thought of working in the energy sector excited Karlee.  

“To some, PSE may not be seen as pushing the envelope on environmental issues, but I have seen how PSE is striving to be the community’s clean energy partner of choice. This is what excited me to join the position to help PSE be responsive to the community especially as someone who comes from the environmental advocacy world.” 

PSE has a goal of being carbon-free by 2045 for electrical service. Karlee is working hard toward that goal. “We’re looking at where we can scale up the small-scale renewable sources like community solar projects.” 

From electric vehicle conversion through the Up & Go Electric equity-focused pilot program, which provides electrical vehicles to the Skagit Housing Authority to the Green Direct energy partnership, PSE is investing in sustainable energy, and Karlee’s background is perfect for bringing solutions to consumers and informing PSE on best industry practices and best outcomes for the community she loves.