Over the past few months activists opposed to the Dakota Access pipeline have ramped up pressure on the pipeline company’s financiers, and now the city of Seattle is showing what kind of weight a large municipality can add as it looks at taking $3 billion in city business away from Wells Fargo.
The city of Seattle is showing what kind of weight a large municipality can add.
Wells Fargo is one of 38 banks offering financial support to the pipeline and its parent companies, according to research by Food & Water Watch, but it’s one of only 17 banks that have directly financed the pipeline construction by Dakota Access LLC. And one of only seven banks financing all of them with significant lines of credit offered to parent companies Energy Transfer Partners, Energy Transfer Equity, and Sunoco Logistics.
Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant introduced legislation that would end the city’s contract with Wells Fargo, which handles $3 billion worth of city government business, including employee payroll. It was unanimously approved to go to a full vote in January. Wells Fargo’s contract with the city has another year to go, meaning no big changes right away, but the legislation could have broader implications as it proposes rules to ensure that the city does business with socially responsible businesses. In remarks introducing the bill December 12, Sawant said the city “can make a strong commitment to environmental, economic, and racial justice” by moving its business to an institution with a reliable social justice record.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is to establish a guide for the city of Seattle, a guide for socially responsible banking practices,” said Seattle activist and Standing Rock Sioux tribe member Matt Remle, a major backer of the proposal.
The action comes at a critical time for the Standing Rock tribe protesting the pipeline. The water protectors say the oil pipeline crossing the Missouri River endangers their water supply and violates sacred grounds. After months of standoffs and confrontations between water protectors and militarized police, the Army Corps of Engineers recently chose not to approve the current path of the pipeline. But many fear that a Trump administration will overturn that and the pipeline will be completed as currently routed.
Wells Fargo’s loans and investments in the project reach nearly half a billion dollars, according to the Food & Water Watch report. And while numerous banks have large investments in the pipeline, including Citibank, Wells Fargo is a strategic target not just because of its relationship with the city. Recent scandals have made it vulnerable to pressure.
“It’s really clear that banking with Wells Fargo is not aligned with the values of the city of Seattle.”