Hitting the Dakota Access pipeline where it hurts


Things are stirring again with the Dakota Access pipeline. It was late last year, near the end of his term, when then-President Barack Obama handed a victory to activists seeking to block the opening of the $3.8 billion project. This is the pipeline which aims to ship fracked oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota across the U.S. Heartland to refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast — and which crosses ancestral lands that native Americans in North Dakota still consider sacred. The order from the Obama administration’s Army Corps of Engineers blocked construction under the Missouri River and required the pipeline’s builders to seek environmental permits for a new route — but activists feared that President Trump, a pipeline supporter, would work to reverse this action.

Since taking office on Jan. 20, Trump has done exactly that; he’s signed executive orders aimed at restarting both the Dakota project and Keystone XL pipeline that President Obama sought to shut down last year, and he’s ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to remove any remaining protesters off federal land. It’s a crushing blow for those who believe that the pipelines ratify America’s addiction to fossil fuels at a moment when the threat from global warming is already upon us. And yet — even with the president and the Congress now aligned in favor of pipeline expansion — there are still avenues for protesters to make their presence felt. And the best place to hit the pipeline builders is right in the pocketbook:

In a win for Standing Rock, Seattle just moved to dump Wells Fargo. A Seattle City Council committee voted 8-0 to divest from the bank, which currently manages $3 billion of the city’s money and is a major funder of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Hundreds of demonstratorsswarmed outside City Hall before the Wednesday morning hearing and erupted in cheers upon learning the outcome.

The bill, which will go to a vote by the full council on Monday, calls for Seattle to find a more socially responsible bank and prohibits the city from investing in Wells Fargo over the next three years. Wells Fargo holds $120 million in a $2.5 billion credit agreement directly financing the construction of the pipeline. If the bill passes, Seattle will be the first major city to divest over Dakota Access.

On Tuesday, the acting secretary of the Army told two members of Congress that he has ordered approval of a final easement necessary to complete construction of the pipeline.

But the anti-pipeline fight continues on multiple fronts. In cities like Seattle, activists aim to apply financial pressure to Dakota Access’ biggest investors. In North Dakota, #NoDAPL organizer LaDonna Brave Bull Allard asked water protectors and their allies to return — seemingly contradicting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request to clear the resistance camps by Jan. 30.

Of course, it’s only a first step — but as protests against the Dakota Access pipeline increase around the country, one hopes that more cities and states will divest from the financial backers of this ill-advised project. Since the protests began in earnest last summer, the pipeline opponents have been highly creative in finding ways to win support and — so far — to keep the project from getting completed. Despite a difficult situation in Washington, let’s hope they find new ways to demonstrate resistance to this terrible project for America’s environment.

Read more about Seattle decision to divest in Wells Fargo Bank from Grist: http://grist.org/briefly/in-a-win-for-standing-rock-seattle-just-moved-to-dump-wells-fargo/

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2017 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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