POLITICS
02/08/2017 03:19 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2017

Seattle Cuts Ties With Wells Fargo To Protest Dakota Access Pipeline Funding

It's the first major city to pull funds from a bank for financing the controversial project.

Seattle City Council has joined the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, voting unanimously to end its contract with a bank funding the project.

The ordinance, approved Tuesday, instructs the city to cut ties with Wells Fargo when its contract expires in 2018. The bank manages the city’s accounts, processing about $3 billion annually. According to Wells Fargo, Seattle’s accounts with the bank hold an average of $10 million.

The vote makes Seattle the first major city to pull funds from a bank for financing the pipeline. The measure also directs the city not to make any new investments in Wells Fargo securities for three years.

“People say, ‘Money talks,’” Councilwoman Debora Juarez said ahead of Tuesday’s vote. “We say, ‘No, it doesn’t. We do.’’’

Juarez noted Seattle’s history of putting “social policy values above the pursuit of pure profits.”

“As a native woman, a mother, a tribal member and attorney, who has lived and fought for all these principals in my personal and professional life, I am proud of my city today,” she said.

Energy Transfer Partners has nearly completed its 1,173-mile oil pipeline, stretching from North Dakota to Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of supporters have protested an unfinished section in North Dakota for months, saying the project threatens drinking water and would disturb sacred land. 

The Army this week said it will grant a permit for construction of the disputed section beneath Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock reservation, abandoning an environmental study. The reversal follows President Donald Trump’s executive order last month calling for expedited approval of the pipeline.

The tribe has vowed to continue fighting in court. 

Wells Fargo is among more than a dozen banks financing the Dakota Access Pipeline, providing $120 million of the project’s cost of more than $2 billion, according to The Associated Press.

“While we are disappointed that the city has decided to end our 18-year relationship, we stand ready to support Seattle with its financial services needs in the future,” Tim Brown, Wells Fargo Middle Market Banking regional manager, told AP. 

Seattle’s split with Wells Fargo comes as a growing number of people object to the pipeline with their wallets. The #DefundDAPL campaign calls on individuals to close accounts with banks involved in the project. Supporters have reported withdrawing funds totaling more than $58 million.

Norway bank DNB sold its assets in the pipeline project, worth approximately $3 million, in November due to concerns raised by the Standing Rock Sioux. In December, the Minneapolis City Council instructed staff to study the possibility of cutting ties with banks invested in the fossil fuel industry and the Dakota Access Pipeline. A California lawmaker introduced a bill in December that would require state pension funds to remove investments from companies funding the pipeline.

Seattle also considered Wells Fargo’s “deplorable” consumer practices in deciding to drop the bank, according to Juarez. Wells Fargo came under fire last year for a scam in which low-level workers, under pressure to meet sales targets, opened more than 2 million checking and credit accounts for customers without their knowledge. The bank was fined $185 million and chief executive John Stumpf abruptly resigned.

The scandal caused Seattle to pull out of a planned $100-million bond financing deal with Wells Fargo for the city’s public electric utility. 

“Such a betrayal of the public trust is completely unacceptable,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray wrote in an October letter to the bank.

Clarification: Language has been amended to reflect that the $3 billion in city funds currently handled by Wells Fargo is the annual amount processed. It is not an average balance on deposit, which the bank put at $10 million.

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