Seattle Council Votes to Divest Billions from Wells Fargo over DAPL Support*
By Claire Bernish
A committee of the Seattle City Council voted in favour of divesting $3 billion in city money from Wells Fargo over the bank’s role in construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
According to the Seattle Times, council members Kshama Sawant and Tim Burgess co-sponsored the bill, which was heard before the Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods and Finance Committee while #NoDAPL pipeline opposition activists gathered in a rally outside.
Public pressure over the controversial pipeline and a massive campaign to divest from banks contributing loans and funds to the project led to the preliminary hearing — and a full vote will be taken on Monday.
Energy Transfer Partners was forced to halt construction when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted approval of the necessary easement for the last remaining portion of the project in order to perform a full environmental impact assessment.
Viewed as a last ditch but sound victory by many, the construction stoppage was expected to last for some time as officials assessed the safety of Dakota Access undercutting the Missouri River’s Lake Oahe reservoir — the sole source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. An additional 18 million people are estimated to draw their drinking water supplies downstream from the pipeline’s planned crossing.
But that stop gap appears to have been removed altogether with the incoming administration of President Donald Trump, who signaled approval of both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines.
Then, on Tuesday, North Dakota Senator John Hoeven released the following statement, proffering more bad news for supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux encamped near the slated path of the final segment of construction:
“Today, the Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer informed us that he has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline. This will enable the company to complete the project, which can and will be built with the necessary safety features to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others downstream.
“Building new energy infrastructure with the latest safeguards and technology is the safest and most environmentally sound way to move energy from where it is produced to where people need it.
“We are also working with the Corps, the Department of Justice, the Department of Interior and the Department of Homeland Security to secure additional federal law enforcement resources to support state and local law enforcement. On Sunday, 20 additional Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement officers arrived at Standing Rock to assist local authorities. Also, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council has asked the protesters to leave the campsite on Corps land.”
“This has been a difficult issue for all involved, particularly those who live and work in the area of the protest site, and we need to bring it to a peaceful resolution.”
In light of the unrelenting effort by politicians and Big Oil to ensure Dakota Access will be completed, divestment from the banks financing the project — speaking to corporations in the language of cash — has proven the only viable option for water protectors to find a voice.
The vote in favour of the bill for divestment from Wells Fargo — which also would require the city to consider social justice principles prior to approving major projects — was immediately hailed as a telling win for Indigenous rights and environmental concerns.
According to the Times, Wells Fargo manages more than $3 billion of Seattle’s operating budget, “including a bi-weekly payroll of $30 million for about 12,000 employees. The average daily balance in the city’s account with Wells Fargo is about $73 million.
“Wells Fargo, along with 16 other banks, is a lender to the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Wells Fargo has $120 million in a $2.5 billion credit agreement funding the pipeline project, according to Jessica Ong, with Wells Fargo corporate communications.”
Pressure from a disaffected public on major banks has worked in favour of pipeline opposition before, as DNB — Norway’s largest bank — pulled all its assets from the project in November after receiving a petition with over 120,000 signatures gathered by Greenpeace.
Permanently halting the Dakota Access Pipeline has begun to seem next to impossible — particularly under the oil and gas industry-friendly Trump administration.
Water protectors have been asked by the Standing Rock Sioux tribal leadership to leave the camps as spring flooding of the entire area is just around the corner. Native and non-native water protectors who have vowed to stay in the area have begun the long cleanup and relocation to higher ground.
At the time this article went to publication, rumours had begun swirling police and National Guard were poised and ready to evacuate the camps by force, though those had yet to be confirmed.
Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline project has sparked a national and international movement to oppose frivolous and unnecessary new fossil fuel projects — but time doesn’t seem to be cooperating.
How to Contact the 17 Banks Funding the Dakota Access Pipeline*