Fresh from their victory getting the Seattle City Council to dump Wells Fargo for lending to the Dakota Access Pipeline developers, climate activists now want to go a step further and get the city to divest employee pension funds from fossil-fuel investments.
“Wells Fargo is not enough,” City Councilmember Kshama Sawant said at a community meeting Monday night at Washington Hall, organized to discuss next steps in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. “The city pension fund has $2.5 billion in fossil fuels (investments) and we are demanding that we divest from that. This is the next step. We have to strike while the iron is hot!”
She urged activists to turn out for a noon rally and pack City Hall on Wednesday to get the issue rolling.
Climate activists rally outside Bank of America branch at Westlake Center urging customers to take their money out to protest the bank as a lender to the Dakota Access Pipeline project. (Lynda Mapes / The Seattle Times)
Sawant introduced the legislation that passed last week with a unanimous council vote requesting Mayor Ed Murray to switch banks when the city’s contract with Wells Fargo expires next year. Seattle cycles about $3 billion a year through the bank, which processes all city payments, and has maintained an average daily balance of about $10 million over the past six months, according to Wells Fargo.
The movement by governments to push back against the Dakota Access Pipeline by punishing lenders to the $3.8 billion project is spreading.
The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe has taken its business elsewhere, and climate activists are pushing the Bellingham City Council to follow in Seattle’s footsteps, and take its money out of US Bank, another Dakota Access Pipeline lender.
And on a rainy Seattle afternoon last week, a small but determined band of demonstrators outside the Bank of America branch office at Westlake Park yelled, “First Wells Fargo! Now B of A!” urging private customers to cancel their accounts.
“Why do we want more oil in our world to be accessible?” said Katherine Bellows of Renton, a member of the activist group Raging Grannies, who turned out for the Westlake demonstration. “The more oil we have the further we are from developing alternative energy sources.”
Scientists warn that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused primarily by burning fossil fuels are the highest in 400,000 years — no human has ever breathed this atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide acts like an insulator in the atmosphere, reflecting heat back to Earth, resulting in changes in the climate system. The last three years on Earth have been the warmest on record.
The opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline has grown from opposition to the more than 1,100 mile-long oil pipeline to a broader movement against further fossil-fuel development, activists said at the community meeting Monday night in Seattle.
“What is happening in Standing Rock is already happening here and the fight is not over,” said Matt Remle of Seattle, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe who helped lead the push to the council to change banks.
Meanwhile, construction is continuing on the Dakota Access Pipeline, after a federal judge Monday denied a motion filed by the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River tribes to stop it.
Judge James E. Boasberg said he is willing to take a deeper look at the issue at another hearing Feb. 27 but for now would let drilling under the Missouri River proceed to connect the two sides of the line that stretches across four states from western North Dakota to other pipelines in Patoka, Illinois.
Crews with Michels Corporation, based in Brownsville, Wisc. — also a Sound Transit contractor, and with offices all over Western Washington — began drilling immediately after the Army Corps of Engineers last Monday granted Energy Transfer Partners, of Dallas, Texas, the last easement needed to cross the river.
Three layers of security barriers with razor wire and a private security force protect the crews drilling the crossing.
The state of North Dakota and Morton County, where one end of the two drill sites is located, have also marshaled police from nine states against demonstrators, who call themselves Water Protectors, making more than 700 arrests since last August.
Finishing the drilling would take about two weeks if crews work around the clock, seven days a week. Weather conditions in North Dakota have been favorable, with record high temperatures forecast for the week.
After additional work, the company hopes to start moving oil by the second quarter of the year, according to a statement from Energy Transfer Partners. The tribes have fought the pipeline, arguing that a leak could pollute drinking water not only for them, but for millions of people downstream. The company has maintained that the pipeline is safe — and a cheaper option for shippers and safer for the environment than to transport oil by rail or truck.
But opponents haven’t given up on blocking the project. Both tribes are pursuing their lawsuit demanding an environmental review of the pipeline be resumed.
A showdown could be coming on the ground next week, as well, with the Army Corps announcing it will be closing and clearing the main camp demonstrators have used since last summer, where about 300 to 400 pipeline opponents remain, with more on the way.
“There is a lot still to happen at Standing Rock,” said Chase Iron Eyes, a Standing Rock Sioux tribal member and lawyer with the Lakota People’s Law Project who has been a leader of the opposition to the pipeline.
“The Army says they are going to raid, and there are 1,000 to 2,000 veterans on route to the construction site,” Iron Eyes, who is visiting Seattle, told the crowd Monday night.
Some elders and tribal leaders have asked demonstrators to leave and stand down, and let the fight play out in the courts. But others urge more direct action on the ground.
“We will find out who loves this land, and these waters, and who is willing to create the future that we need to pass on to our children,” Iron Eyes told the crowd. “We have to remember liberty flows in the streets, and liberty flows from the front lines.”
He advocated legal and political pursuits for justice in the fossil-fuel fight and battle against the pipeline. “But they don’t happen unless human beings are willing to place their bodies on the line in a peaceful and prayerful way,” Iron Eyes said. “Peace does not mean backing down.”
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