The Seattle City Council on Monday will hear a proposal to pull $3 billion in money from Wells Fargo Bank.
Hundreds of anti-pipeline demonstrators gathered Wednesday morning in downtown Seattle to encourage City Council members to pull $3 billion from Wells Fargo Bank because of its role as a Dakota Access Pipeline lender.
With demonstrators yelling “Let us in!” outside packed City Hall chambers, the Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods and Finance Committee heard impassioned pleas as it considered a proposal to divest the city funds.
The committee voted unanimously to forward the bill to the full City Council on Monday.
“We all agree: divestment is our goal,” councilwoman Debora Juarez said during the hearing.
Meanwhile in North Dakota, demonstrators protesting the pipeline were locked in a standoff with police for hours in subfreezing weather, resulting in 76 arrests.
The proposal is intended to be a blow against construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. President Trump has ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue the last easement needed to complete the more than 1,000-mile-long oil pipeline from western North Dakota to Illinois.
- Background stories: Here's a primer on the pipeline project, including the key players on all sides, a brief history of broken treaty promises and a closer look at the courtroom battle. And here's what we're reading related to the controversy.
- Feb. 22: Preparing to leave, Standing Rock protesters ceremonially burn camp.
- Feb. 21: Last of pipeline opponents leave North Dakota protest camp.
- Feb. 1: Hundreds rally as the Seattle City Council considers divesting from Wells Fargo because of its role as a Dakota Access Pipeline lender.
- Jan. 24, 2017: Donald Trump signs executive orders advancing the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says it will push back.
- Dec. 4, 2016: Tribes celebrate as Corps rejects Dakota Access pipeline easement
- Nov. 21: Washington tribes urge that Obama stop, reroute Dakota Access Pipeline
- Nov. 12: Hundreds rally in Tacoma against Dakota Access Pipeline
- Live updates from from Seattle Times journalists on the scene Oct. 26, 27 and 28.
- Oct. 25: Tribes in Washington state call on President Obama to improve federal consultations over infrastructure projects
- Oct. 24: Citing treaty claim, protesters occupy land a rancher recently sold to pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners.
- See photos from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
Construction moved closer to completion Tuesday as a U.S. Army official ordered the Corps to issue the easement, which is expected soon. But opponents are pushing the battle to more fronts, including toward project lenders like Wells Fargo.
“You faced down attack dogs, blizzards and rubber bullets,” legislation co-sponsor and Councilmember Kshama Sawant told the crowd Wednesday in the council chambers, referring to protest camps in North Dakota that drew thousands of demonstrators, including many from Washington tribes. “If we do not fight we will not win.”
Added Sawant as she cast her vote: “Let’s build on this, make sure other cities move to divest from Wells Fargo.”
In addition to terminating the city’s contract with Wells Fargo, the bill would also require that social-justice principles be considered when awarding all city contracts, including construction projects.
Wells Fargo manages more than $3 billion of the city’s operating account, including a biweekly payroll of $30 million for about 12,000 employees. The average daily balance in the city’s account with the bank is about $73 million.
Jessica Ong, spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, said in a statement, “We respect all the views being expressed in this dispute, including those of the Seattle City Council members.” Wells Fargo is one of 17 financial institutions involved in financing the oil pipeline, she said.
“We are obligated to fulfill our legal obligations as outlined under the credit agreement,” she added. “ … that being said, we remain respectful of the concerns being expressed by tribal governments and communities, other groups, and individuals.”
Wells Fargo has been the city’s bank for operations since 1999. Even if Seattle pulls out its money, it’s a pinprick for Wells Fargo, which collected $1.3 trillion in deposits in 2016.
To some, however, the legislation doesn’t go far enough. Councilmember Mike O’Brien said Washington needs a state-owned bank. Moving the city’s money from one commercial bank to another “doesn’t really solve the problem,” O’Brien said.
He urged support for a bill, SB 5464, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Bob Hasegawa, of the 11th Legislative District, to create the Washington Investment Trust, a publicly owned depository for state tax revenue.
Hasegawa said the depository would also be available for other cities or political subdivisions in the state. “The big thing is to keep our tax dollars in the state, working for the state,” Hasegawa said by phone from Olympia.
Tensions over the pipeline are running high. A rally organized in just hours drew hundreds in Seattle last week after Trump’s executive order intended to advance the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines.
Meanwhile, crews are on standby in hotel rooms, waiting for the final easement to be released, and could finish the job within two weeks if they work around the clock.
North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven said Tuesday the Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to proceed. “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,” Hoeven, a Republican, said in a prepared statement.
If the easement is granted, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has vowed to sue to block construction.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., joined with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, in a letter to the White House on Wednesday objecting to the president’s push to expedite an environmental review in North Dakota.
Pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners, of Dallas, welcomed the president’s help and has stated the pipeline should be completed without further delay.
The move to expedite construction comes as North Dakota officials and tribal leaders have been urging opponents to leave protest camps near the construction site, and to stay away, because of concern of flooding near the Missouri River.
Camp cleanup is under way before the high water comes, and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has asked pipeline opponents to turn the fight to Washington, D.C., and the courts.
But it may not be that easy to turn back the grass-roots passion raised by the issue. Money keeps pouring into fundraisers for pipeline opponents, with more than $30,000 raised since Trump’s executive order.
Dallas Goldtooth, a Mdewakanton Dakota tribal member and activist, said while he and other opponents have left the camp, he expects more will return. He wondered how far the state of North Dakota would go to protect pipeline construction from demonstrators.
“I don’t know if someone is going to die,” he said. “I sincerely hope not.”
He said he saw history repeating itself.
“Of course, we would be literally putting our lives on the line to defend the water and the land … we are enacting this fight of our ancestors from 180 years ago. The struggle has not ended.
“That is the greatest pain of all, not only for us as native people but for America. We are recreating the same story, and at what point are we going to stop?”
Demonstrators have already begun setting up a new camp to protest the pipeline, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, where the Dakota Access Pipeline snakes through en route to Illinois.
The department issued a news release Wednesday declaring its intention to roust about 40 “rogue” protesters from the camp, if they do not leave on their own.
Live video on Facebook Wednesday afternoon showed hundreds of demonstrators facing off against police in riot gear on the main highway to the construction site.
The temperature was 14 degrees at the nearest big town, Fort Yates.
Police eventually arrested 76 demonstrators and took them to local jails, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Office.
The new camp was cleared and closed by nightfall, with police dropping off teepees set up in the camp at the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s reservation.
In all nearly 700 people have been arrested since last August demonstrating against the pipeline.