City of Seattle votes to divest $3 billion from Wells Fargo over Dakota Access Pipeline

Environment West
The City of Seattle has voted to divest $3 billion in municipal funds from Wells Fargo over the bank's financing ties to the Dakota Access Pipeline project. (Courtesy Wikimedia / Carl Wycoff)

The Seattle City Council has voted to divest $3 billion in municipal funds from Wells Fargo in response to the bank’s financial support of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project.

The city council’s unanimous decision comes as the Trump administration greenlighted approvals for the DAPL project—something the Obama administration officials had derailed in 2016. The $3.7 billion, 1,172-mile-long DAPL project is highly controversial and is seen as environmentally-destructive by environmental groups and indigenous peoples. Over the last year, protests at the Standing Rock site have been violently broken up by law enforcement officials. The DAPL is planned to run within less than a mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation and leaders of the tribe are fiercely opposed to the project. Research by Richard Stover at the Center for Biological Diversity indicates that between 1986 and 2013, over 8,000 significant pipeline spills and incidents occurred, resulting in nearly $7 billion in damages. Stover’s research indicates that an average of 76,000 barrels per year (over 3 million gallons) of oil spill each year, roughly 200 barrels every day.

The Stranger reports that Seattle’s current financial contract with Wells Fargo expires in 2018 and that when it does, the city will move to formally withdraw its municipal funds from the bank. The city has until then to find a new place to hold those reserves and to handle various financial aspects associated with running a municipality, such as issuing the city’s payroll checks.

The move marks likely the largest divestment move for a DAPL-related financial institution and, due to its size, it has the potential for wide-spread ramifications. The Seattle City Council resolution also targetted the bank due to its financial support for private prison companies as well as the financial institution’s recent fraudulent account scandal. Considering that the Trump administration’s so-called infrastructure spending is heavily weighted toward ventures like private prison detention centers and fossil fuel-related enterprises, it is unlikely Seattle’s move will stand as an exception for long.

The liberal, West Coast city has been fighting the new administration’s socially conservative and anti-immigrant policies; this divestiture positions the city’s finances—biweekly payroll accounts total roughly $30 million for about 12,000 employees and the city’s average daily balance with the bank is about $73 million—in line with the municipality’s other recent moves to resist the Trump administration.

The move also comes as other municipalities and even entire countries move to divest financial resources from institutions that support politically- and environmentally-toxic ventures. The country of Ireland moved to fully divest its Ireland Strategic Investment Fund away from coal, oil and gas investments. The €8 billion fund, part of the Ireland’s National Treasury Management Agency, will move to sell off its dirty energy investments over the next five years. The country of Norway moved in 2015 to partially divest from the fossil fuel industry, as well.

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