February 7, 2017; Spokesman-Review (Associated Press)
In an unusual move, but one in tune with the times, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted yesterday to end its banking relationship with Wells Fargo, which handles around $3 billion of the city’s operating funds each year, based on its business practices, including its role as a lender to the now federally revived Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) project. The legislation also cited Wells Fargo for a number of enforcement orders recently issued against it and expressed a preference for more socially responsible banking in general.
Environmental activists have been advocating for such fund withdrawals in protest of the pipeline. Council-member Kshama Sawant, who cosponsored the move, said, “The example that we have set today can be a beacon of hope to activists all around the country seeking to change the economic calculus of corporations who think that investing in the Dakota Access pipeline will be good for their bottom line,” Sawant said after the vote. “We’re making it bad for their bottom line.”
The city is home to a large number of Native Americans, who are invested in many of the consequences of the pipeline’s circumstances. “You have been a city setting the example to the world and I look to you to do that now,” Olivia One Feather told the council. “When big cities such as this do the right thing, it sparks hope in the world.” One member of the council, Debora Juarez, is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation tribe in Montana.
According to Wells Fargo, the bank is only one financer of 17 on the DAPL and is obligated to the project, providing $120 million of the $2.5 billion. The city’s 18-year contract with the bank ends in 2018.
In the fall, Seattle ended negotiations with Wells Fargo over a $100 million utility bond deal. California and Illinois also plan to suspend some business relationships with the bank.
Some present at the meeting advocated for a transfer of the relationship to a nonprofit bank or credit union that would share a values set with Seattle’s local government.—Ruth McCambridge